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Alderman Worried About Fallout From Possible Midway Airport Privatization

By Chuck Sudo in News on Aug 23, 2013 1:45PM

Photo Credit: vxla

The possibility of flights arriving late into the night is but one of many issues that could affect residents living near Midway Airport if Mayor Rahm Emanuel moves forward with privatizing “the World’s Busiest Square Mile.”

Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd), the chairman of City Council’s Aviation Committee and in whose ward Midway resides, expressed these and other concerns to the Sun-Times. The city has a “quiet time” agreement curbing flight departures and arrivals between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. allowing homeowners to get some relief from the constant stream of jet noise. But there are some homes that don’t qualify for soundproofing at the city’s expense because they aren’t within decibel range of Midway. Zalewski told the Sun-Times, “a private operator is gonna look to every avenue to recoup its investment. More flights means more passengers and more revenue from parking and concessions.”

Zalewski also expressed concern about the future of concession employees at the airport. State law only guarantees jobs for city employees at Midway. Opponents of privatizing Midway approached Zalewski about instances of possible union-busting and black-listing of workers by one of the finalists for the Midway lease, Spanish firm Ferrovial.

“I told them I needed proof. I’m awaiting that documentation. But, if it’s true, that’s a huge problem” that would require Emanuel to either risk a political donnybrook with organized labor’s City Council allies or award the contract to the only other bidder, Zalewski said.

Emanuel announced last December his administration was testing the waters on privatizing Midway and insisted if this deal moved forward, it would not be like the 2008 parking meter lease brokered by the Daley administration that many believed Emanuel's changes to the deal managed to make worse earlier this year. If the Midway deal happens the winning bidder would have to agree to 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. (99-year, $2.5 billion plan to privatize Midway in place in 2009 that didn’t happen as a result of the economic collapse.)

Last month, City Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott offered a vigorous defense of the benefits of privatizing Midway that suggested Emanuel was moving forward with the plan. Zalewski isn’t so certain but his words indicate the mayor may still be working on a deal.

“This mayor is smarter than the average bear,” Zalewski said “He has tried to make sure this thing is vetted thoroughly before it’s ever brought to the City Council.”