Hanging Out in Rockford: Think globally, act locally

I’m sitting in Budapest at a computer café kiosk, trying to figure out the y-z thing when I get an e-mail from my son, who is working across town at KPMG. Congressman Don Manzullo has just proposed that Malev, the Hungarian national airline, fly direct to Rockford. I immediately e-mail Ryan Petty, who runs our local Chamber of Commerce. “Ryan, I am in Budapest, my son works here and is fluent in Magyar, the Hungarian language. I would like to participate in any way possible.”

Upon returning to Rockford, I get an e-mail from Derek Sherman of the Council of 100 inviting me to a luncheon at the Greater Rockford Airport with the congressman, the ambassador from Hungary (Andras Simony) representatives of Malev and representatives from Boeing. I e-mail him back saying, “I will be there with bells on. Can I bring Frank from The Rock River Times?”

The turnout is better than anyone could imagine. At first Derek says there isn’t room for Frank, but I call Ryan’s voicemail, and he intercedes. On a Tuesday night, deadline night for The Rock River Times, I get a call from Derek. He wants to know how to get hold of Frank. I tell him I will do my best. Taking a blind guess, I call Cannova’s. Sure enough, Frank comes to the phone. I get his cell number and call it back to Derek, and then it is all arranged.

The next day, I pick Frank up at The Rock River Times. We arrive to find the airport parking lot full. That is a good sign. Don Manzullo is working the entrance to the dining area. He gives me a warm handshake. Don has a wonderful memory for people. I guess you have to have that if you want to be a congressman. Jim Cichok of the Council is there at the entrance also. He reminds me of my offer to host a Council event at my restaurant in Rockton, the Irish Rose North. I assure him that I haven’t forgotten my commitment.

Andras Simony, the ambassador, turns out to be a charmer. He holds the audience spellbound as he talks of working together, and how it has to make business sense. And it does. There wouldn’t be representatives from Malev if it didn’t make sense. There wouldn’t be representatives from Boeing if it didn’t make sense. There wouldn’t be 150 people there if it didn’t make sense. Rockford International Airport has a certain ring to it.

Having just traveled to Budapest via United and Lufthansa, from Chicago to Frankfurt and then to Budapest, it makes a lot of sense. Malev, which flies direct to Budapest out of New York, cannot get a berth at O’Hare. Flights out of Rockford would put the airline in direct competition with United for that part of the world. Budapest is centrally located for literally dozens of countries in that area, which Malev connects to from its Budapest hub. My friend Gerlinde, who travels to Europe several times a year, immediately remarked that would be much easier for her. Also, she really likes Budapest. I can understand why.

I am sitting at Little Italy when I hear that the incumbent from my county board district, 12, isn’t going to run. A number of the local politicos are sitting there when I say that I have always wanted to run for county board. “Why don’t you?” is the universal chorus. Back at the Irish Rose, I am writing my column about my re-entry to the United States and how badly we treat visitors to our country. Suddenly, I have an epiphany. I will run for county board, and if elected, I will try to be appointed to the airport board.

I want to affect the immigration procedures at the new international Rockford airport. Our congressman, who is already aware of how foreign visitors feel about their “welcome” when they come to the United States, is bound to be helpful. He has already demonstrated his ability to think outside of the box. How about a friendly Rockford-style welcome? Not that we don’t have to be serious about checking out the people who come to the United States through our new international airport, but we could set standards for being nice and consideration of our valued foreign visitors that could be emulated elsewhere. It’s certainly worth consideration. Please help me to get elected to the county board. I am running in the Democratic primary.

The Hungarian ambassador has stated that he would like to receive letters from 500 Rockford people who would use the new international flights. You can e-mail him at the following address, asimonyi@huembwas.org. Want Rockford to be an international city? Do your part.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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