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Emanuel Renews Push To Privatize Midway Airport

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Midway International Airport (CBS File Photo)

Midway International Airport (CBS File Photo)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor Rahm Emanuel has renewed the city’s efforts to lease Midway International Airport, but the plans scaled back from the one proposed—and then dropped—by former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports the mayor stressed no final decisions have been made about leasing Midway to a private operator.

“No final decisions have been made, but we can’t make a decision until we evaluate fully if this could be a win for Chicagoans,” Emanuel said in a written statement.

Their announcement Friday was the very beginning of the process to potentially privatize the airport, but the mayor has outlined the framework for a possible deal.

The city had faced a Dec. 31 deadline to decide whether to explore a lease deal in order to keep the airport in the Federal Aviation Administration’s airport privatization pilot program.

Daley had put forth an ambitious $2.5 billion proposal to lease the airport for 99 years, but that deal evaporated amid the 2009 financial crisis, and Chicago aldermen have been wary of privatization efforts since the parking meter fiasco.

“We all know the parking meter deal was bad for taxpayers and the City, and I have instructed my staff to ensure we mandate significant changes that protect us from the mistakes made with the parking meter deal,” Emanuel said.

A mayoral spokesperson said this deal would have safeguards, the lease wouldn’t be longer than 40 years, and the city would be guaranteed an ongoing revenue stream from the lease to pay for capital expenses, rather than one lump sum payment.

It would also include a “Travelers’ Bill of Rights” assuring minimum standards all travelers at the airport would be able to expect, no matter what changes occur under any privatization.

The deal would also preserve labor protections already in place to make sure employees are treated fairly, and given an opportunity to work for the new airport manager – with similar pay and benefits – or transfer to another position with the city.

The city would use any initial proceeds from the deal to pay off airport debt, while retaining ownership of the airport, and maintaining revenue-sharing throughout the lease.

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