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Emanuel Moves Forward With Midway Privatization

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 21, 2012 3:25PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Thursday his administration will test the waters and consider privatizing Midway Airport, despite the concerns of some aldermen and the bad taste still lingering in the mouths of Chicago motorists from the 2008 parking meter privatization deal.

Emanuel cited the parking meter deal as Exhibit A for why and how a possible deal to privatize “the world’s busiest square mile” will be different this time. Among the details floated by the mayor: A 40-year lease; a “Travelers Bill of Rights” to prevent a contractor from gouging travelers for food, retail and parking; rigid safety and cleanliness standards; the private contractor footing the bill for police and fire protection; and sliding scale revenue sharing with the city over the course of the deal.

That sounds great, on paper. It’s definitely better than the privatization deals championed by Richard M. Daley which amounted to nearly a century of leasing city assets to contractors in exchange for a large balloon payment that came nowhere close to the revenues the contractors would see over the course of the deals and valuations of the assets. So why are aldermen like Michael Zalewski (23rd), the City Council Aviation Committee chair whose ward includes Midway, asking the Mayor to not get ahead of his skis? It’s likely because they’re still (rightly) butthurt from the criticism they rubber stamped Daley’s parking meter deal with little time to review it.

Zalewski told the Sun-Times:

“We are now auditing some of our past privitization deals, Midway being probably the biggest gem of all. We should proceed with caution. The number of employees that would have to be displaced is a concern. We’ve always said that Midway stays as one square mile and we would never expand the airport or take homes around it. All of that is a prerequisite in even looking at” a request for qualifications from bidders, Zalewski said. Zalewski was not appeased when told that Emanuel plans to do it differently. “That all sounds good, but I’m skeptical whether the market is out there for somebody to accept all of those prerequisites,” Zalewski said.

Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), Emanuel’s floor leader on City Council, admitted the bad press from the parking meter deal would make any proposal regarding leasing Midway to a private contractor a hard sell, which is why he said Emanuel is treading lightly here and assessing the “market conditions” for a lease of Midway.

Emanuel’s announcement came in time for the city to file its paperwork with the Federal Aviation Administration Airport Privatization Pilot Program before a Dec. 31 deadline.