A former Chicago Police official who has held top security jobs at the city, state and federal levels has been chosen to replace the fired security chief at O’Hare and Midway Airports, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
Andrew Velasquez III replaces Jeffrey Redding, who was fired from his $118,020-a-year job for failing to fully disclose the sexual harassment allegations that prompted the Illinois Tollway to get rid of him.
As managing deputy for safety and security, Velasquez will be paid an annual salary of $175,000. That’s more than $56,000 higher than Redding’s salary as deputy commissioner.
“This is a different position than Jeff’s,” Aviation Department spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said.
Velasquez spent 10 years in the Chicago Police Department before serving as managing deputy, then executive director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
He went on to serve as director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency under now convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and as Homeland Security adviser under former Gov. Pat Quinn.
In 2010, then-President Barack Obama appointed Velasquez to serve as regional administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In an emailed statement, Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said Velasquez’s “strong experience managing large governmental security agencies and coordinating high-level emergency response between federal, state and city agencies makes him extremely qualified to manage safety and security operations for two of the nation’s largest airports and lead the multi-layered security program that helps more than 100 million passengers safety travel through Chicago’s airports each year.”
Redding had been on the hot seat ever since three of his aviation police officers boarded a United Airlines jet on April 9 and dragged a bloodied and flailing Dr. David Dao down the aisle for failing to give up his seat for a United crew member.
Redding’s firing had nothing to do with the viral video that has damaged Chicago’s reputation as an international tourist destination.
Instead, the firing stemmed from Redding’s failure to fully disclose the circumstances surrounding his firing from the Illinois Tollway six months before he was hired to oversee a $19 million a year, 292-employee strong force of unarmed aviation security officers.
Velasquez will play a pivotal role in determining whether the city’s force of aviation police officers should continue to exist in the wake of the United fiasco.
That question has yet to be resolved and will be complicated by opposition from the Service Employees Union Local 73, which represents the 292 officers.
Last month, the confusion about security at O’Hare and Midway Airports laid bare by the passenger-dragging fiasco got even muddier.
In yet another contentious appearance before the City Council’s Aviation Committee, Evans disclosed that she had hired the Israel Airports Authority to review facilities, technologies and security protocol at Chicago airports.
The $245,000 initial review is expected to take five months, followed by a second phase with a $500,000 price tag.