President's Position

The whole world is watching Meigs

May 1, 2003

AOPA President Phil Boyer has been a Meigs Field advocate for 25 years.

In a shameful display of contempt for due process, open government, and democracy itself, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has "vandalized [Chicago's] lakefront jewel, Meigs Field," in the words of the Chicago Sun-Times.

In 1968, when Daley's father was mayor and ordered his police to assault protesters at the Democratic National Convention on live network television, a chant went up from the crowd: "The whole world is watching."

Today's Daley learned from that debacle, so the sack of Merrill C. Meigs Field began late on a Sunday night with his police blocking the access road to keep the press at bay. By dawn, the truth was out. By the afternoon of Monday, March 31, Daley was absurdly claiming his rash action was taken to protect public safety, even in the absence of any threat — credible or otherwise.

Well, the whole world is watching now, Mr. Mayor.

If you believed your own "public safety" claim, why didn't you coordinate your actions with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as you are required to do under federal law?

"To do this any other way would have been needlessly contentious and jeopardized public safety and prolonged concerns and anxiety among Chicagoans for months and maybe years," Daley said.

Nonsense. If Chicagoans are anxious, it may be because "what Daley did is politically reprehensible. By his actions, 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," the Chicago Tribune noted in an editorial.

How sad that the mayor considers the democratic process to be "needlessly contentious." The rule of law is about zealous but peaceful adversaries reaching legal outcomes. And federal law requires 90 days' notice prior to the closure of any airport, while Illinois state law requires a certificate of approval for the alteration of an existing airport.

Yes, the whole world is watching, and it has seen Mayor Daley cynically play on unfounded fears to accomplish his 25-year goal of closing Meigs. And lest another "banana-republic general," as the Tribune labeled Daley, should decide to use homeland security as the excuse for closing airports, AOPA took strong, immediate action.

First, AOPA filed a formal complaint with the FAA regarding Daley's failure to adhere to the notification requirements of FAR Part 157. Further, AOPA demanded that Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports be declared ineligible for federal funding until Meigs is reopened. AOPA also filed a formal complaint with the Illinois Department of Transportation requesting an administrative hearing regarding Daley's failure to obtain a certificate of approval under Part 620 of state regulations. AOPA will appeal any rejection of either of these formal complaints. (This issue of AOPA Pilot is going to press as I write this, so stay tuned to AOPA Online and AOPA ePilot for the latest information.)

Next, AOPA filed for an injunction to prevent further destruction of Meigs, pending the outcome of investigation into the federal and state complaints.

AOPA took out full-page advertisements in the April 6 and 7 Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times newspapers. The ad was an open letter to the mayor and city residents explaining the outrage of America's pilots at Daley's action. The ad details Daley's sneak attack, his breaking his word to the governor of Illinois and the people of Chicago on a project AOPA supported in Congress, and his refusal to grant AOPA access throughout our long battle to save the airport, along with our legal and legislative actions.

At press time, AOPA's general counsel was requesting meetings with top lawyers at the Department of Transportation and the FAA to seek remedies through those entities.

The AOPA Legal Services Plan's more than 600 panel attorneys were pressed into service as a "brain bank" to help develop additional legal arguments. Possible violations of environmental regulations, the rights of the owners of the stranded aircraft, the legal necessity for coordination with the Department of Homeland Security, and other state and local laws are being investigated. Further, AOPA has offered to help any of the pilots whose airplanes were trapped at Meigs to pursue claims against the city of Chicago, if they or their attorneys request it.

Looking ahead, AOPA will oppose any attempt by the City of Chicago to use federal or state funds for the $27 million park that is slated to replace Meigs. AOPA will ask the DHS to issue an order prohibiting restrictions or closures of public airports on the basis of a security claim without the department's concurrence and a specific threat. In addition, AOPA will seek emergency legislation to allow the state of Illinois to purchase Meigs from Chicago as well as federal legislation to mandate the reopening of the airport.

AOPA's 400,000 members — many of whom own and manage businesses — can also send an economic message to Mayor Daley. Avoid the city of Chicago whenever possible. Encourage your trade, professional, and business associations to not hold meetings and conventions in Chicago. If traveling by airline, avoid flights stopping in Chicago.

The Sun-Times stated, "The mayor has miscalculated, badly, and given Chicagoans not reassurance for their safety, but real concern about their mayor's judgment."

We agree. And the whole world is watching.