Mayor Rahm Emanuel left himself some wiggle room on trying again to privatize Midway Airport to raise money, saying today he was giving up the idea for "the foreseeable future" after recently halting the process of accepting bids to lease it.
"I think you should just basically -- I said no to Midway," Emanuel said when asked about taking another shot at privatizing the Southwest Side airport. "I said no, now, tomorrow and in the foreseeable future."
The Emanuel administration announced Thursday that the mayor had abruptly ended the months-long contest to award a lease of up to 40 years to run the airport. The administration did not release specifics about what happened, other than to say one of two remaining bidders had dropped out and the mayor wouldn't continue if there weren't companies competing for the work. The mayor also published an opinion piece in which he didn’t offer specifics on what happened at the end of Midway talks.
Sources said the remaining bidder, the Great Lakes Airport Alliance, had offered a $1.4 billion upfront payment to cover the city's Midway debt, plus city revenue sharing that would have increased the total value of the deal to more than $4 billion over the 39-year life of the pact.
"I said no to privatization on Midway, it was not right for the city," Emanuel said Tuesday. "It didn't meet the standards for the city, and I'm not going to compromise the standards as it relates to protecting the taxpayers and making sure that they get the right kind of value."
Emanuel found the idea of privatizing Midway enticing because the experimental Federal Aviation Administration privatization program would allow him to use money generated at the airport to address some of the cash-strapped city's other pressing needs.
But Emanuel said stopping the Midway lease process does not leave him searching for another revenue source to help balance the city budget. The mayor said unlike predecessor Richard M. Daley -- who dipped deeply into reserves from the lease of the Skyway and the city's parking meters to plug deficits in his final years in office -- he would not rely on privatization funding to address structural shortfalls.
"That said, one of the principles I laid out in there was very clear, that if we were ever to look at private-public partnerships, which I say are good things to look at and review, one, you should have a high standard and not compromise it," he said. "But two, most importantly, it should not be used for budget plugging. It should be used, if you do anything, for investing. I have sworn off any idea that you would use any idea of revenues to avoid making the tough decisions in your budget. If you want to invest in roads, bridges, schools, public libraries, parks, that's a good public thing to invest in, appropriate. The idea of plugging your budget, like we did in the past, I think is a mistake."
Emanuel could face challenges getting Midway back in line for privatization. The FAA program allows only one major hub airport to be privatized, which was the slot Midway held for several years before the mayor aborted the attempt. Another U.S. city with such a hub could now take that slot.
The mayor also talked about his appearance Monday night on the Late Show, where host David Letterman pressed him on Chicago's reputation as a violent city. "What I hear about Chicago now is 'Oh, don't go to Chicago, the violence is unbelievable.' Now, tell us why people say that," Letterman said.
Emanuel’s remarks Tuesday came as he appeared with Police Supt. Garry McCarthy at a police station in the Gresham neighborhood to tout a decrease in crime in neighborhoods where police foot patrols have been increased. So the mayor was asked if he was frustrated that the late night talk show host in New York turned the discussion to crime.
Rather than address Letterman's remarks directly, Emanuel instead insisted "Chicago has a great reputation as a great city," and ticked off some of the positives about attracting conventions and Chicago’s noted architecture, restaurants and arts scene. “People will start to see the progress we're making taking an intractable problem and start to solve it,” he said.
Also Tuesday, Barbara Bowman, the mother of White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, won a nod for her new appointment by Rahm Emanuel to serve as member of the Chicago Public Library Board of Directors. With the endorsement of the Budget Committee, the full City Council is expected to approve her appointment Wednesday.
Bowman, a longtime educator who is now the Irving B. Harris professor of Child Development at the Erikson Institute she co-founded, has served on numerous boards focusing on childhood education.
The Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation Committee also endorsed the appointment of Donald Edwards, a managing principal at the Flexpoint Ford private equity investment firm, and reappointment of Avis LaVelle, president of a communications consulting firm, to the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners.
In late 2010, Edwards gave $100,000 to Emanuel’s campaign when he was gearing up his run for mayor. He later gave more than $10,000 to aldermen the mayor backed in their races. He’s also given $20,500 to The Chicago Committee, a political fund controlled by the mayor.
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