Chicago newspapers, others join AOPA in condemning Meigs closure

January 4, 2003

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City of Chicago suddenly tears up the Meigs
Field runway, stranding some 16 aircraft.
AOPA photos by Mark Schaible.
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Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley is drawing nearly universal condemnation for his middle-of-the night raid to close Merrill C. Meigs Field. Editorials in Chicago's two major daily newspapers used phrases like "banana republic general" and "naked exercise of power" to describe the mayor and his tactics.

General aviation associations, the air traffic controllers union, and even the FAA voiced strong concerns about Daley's tactics.

But perhaps the strongest condemnations come from the Chicago papers. Editorials in the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times attacked Daley for ignoring the democratic process.

The Sun-Times said today, "When Mayor Daley was re-elected...we praised his 'record of effort and accomplishment' that had 'earned the trust of a broad spectrum of this city.' That record was tarnished and that trust broken late Sunday as, without any advance notice or public discussion, the city vandalized its lakefront jewel, Meigs Field."

The editorial continued, "Daley insisted that a lack of congressional action [on a bill that would write into federal law a handshake agreement to keep Meigs open and fund O'Hare expansion] voided his deal with the governor—his word is good only if Congress endorses it?—and claimed that making his plans public would have been 'needlessly contentious.'

"'Needless' to him, perhaps. But not needless to those on both sides of the issue who want our city government to operate in the light, not in the dark."

In its editorial, the Chicago Tribune said, "The Tribune has supported keeping Meigs as an airport rather than turning it into a park, as Daley had reluctantly vowed to do. But the issue here is not planes versus trees. The issue is Daley's increasingly authoritarian style that brooks no disagreements, legal challenges, negotiations, compromise or any of that messy give-and-take normally associated with democratic government."

"By his actions," the Tribune continued, "Daley announced that agreements with other officials, or with the public, are only valid until he changes his mind or comes up with a different idea."

Aviation organizations were no less condemnatory.

John Carr of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said, "Clearly, the mayor didn't think his policy choices could either figuratively or literally withstand the light of day. It's the epitome of arrogance." Ray Gibbons, the president of NATCA's Chicago local, added, "Meigs' closure adds complex and higher volumes of traffic to this area's overburdened, understaffed facilities. At some point in time, the safety of the flying public will be compromised."

FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey said, "We at the FAA were concerned to learn this morning of the decision to close Meigs Field. Already, we have heard from members of the general aviation community, and we share their concern. Removing any centrally located airport such as Meigs from the system only diminishes capacity and puts added pressure on O'Hare and Midway airports."

03-2-001