Emanuel picks Washington D.C. airport executive as aviation commissioner

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A comparatively low salary apparently hindered the search for a Chicago aviation commissioner, who will oversee the agency in charge of O’Hare (shown) and Midway airports. | File Photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday broke from Chicago’s political past and chose an airport professional with experience riding herd over big-ticket construction projects to be the city’s new aviation commissioner.

After a protracted search hampered by the comparatively low salary, Emanuel settled on Ginger Evans, vice president of engineering for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Evans has more than three decades of experience in the engineering and aviation industries. She replaces Rosemarie Andolino, a favorite of former Mayor Richard M. Daley who had no background in either aviation or construction management.

Chicago’s new aviation commissioner joined the Washington airport authority last year after serving as vice president for the global aviation practice at engineering and construction giant, Parsons Corp.

Parsons Construction Group was just awarded a $310 million contract to upgrade the O’Hare Airport people mover system, double the system’s capacity and complete a 2,000-foot track extension to a new consolidated rental car facility.


Ginger Evans has been selected as Chicago’s new aviation commissioner. | LinkedIn Photo

In Washington, Evans was charged with overseeing Reagan National and Dulles International Airports, construction of the Silver Line Metrorail project and maintenance of the Dulles Toll Road.

Evans’ extensive resume also includes a stint as director of aviation for the Denver International Airport.

In Chicago, Evans will oversee O’Hare and Midway Airports and immediately confront the political turbulence over O’Hare jet noise.

“The citizens and communities impacted by the October 2013 [runway] changes made at O’Hare must have a real seat at the table for how that airport is going to become a good neighbor. We want her to call on Day One and begin to have a conversation with us,” said Jac Charlier, co-founder of the Fair Allocation in Runways (FAIR) Coalition.

Pressed for specific demands, Charlier said, “Fair and equitable distribution of the air traffic around O’Hare day and night. Saving the diagonal runways. She cannot, at the mayor’s direction, de-commission or take away diagonal runways. And she has to explore Fly Quiet as part of the solution. All three are within reach during the first year of her tenure.”

Still unclear is how much Evans would be paid and how high the mayor had to raise the aviation commissioner’s $186,576-a-year salary to attract a candidate of her caliber and experience. Evans could not be reached for comment.

Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd), chairman of the City Council’s Aviation Committee, said Evans was one of three finalists interviewed.

Sources said the mayor’s first choice, Vancouver Airport official George Casey, demanded an annual salary in the $400,000 range. That’s a price Emanuel was unwilling to pay.

Evans settled for less, but more than Andolino was earning, sources said.

“She was very impressive she showed a real passion for coming to Chicago,” said Zalewski, a member of the search committee.

“Considering that so many department heads over the years come from within the ranks, bringing somebody in from the outside is a definite break. I give the mayor credit for his choice.”

Zalewski said it’s a good thing Evans has experience running a big-city airport and big-ticket construction projects. She’s going to have to “hit the ground running,” the alderman said.

“You have food and beverage concessions coming up and [airline] use agreements in 2018. You have the future of the modernization program and whether that’s going to continue on. You have the noise complaints, the people mover extension, day-to-day management,” Zalewski said.

“And you have the other big ideas the mayor has for the airport system. Possible high-speed rail from the Loop to O’Hare. More concession space. There’s a lot the mayor wants to do at O’Hare. Anybody who took the job knew it was gonna be rock ’em, sock ’em robots. This job is not gonna be a five day-a-week, 9-to-5 job. She’s aware of that and she can face all of the challenges ahead of her.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this year that the protracted nationwide search for Chicago’s next aviation commissioner had been stymied by the comparatively-low, $186,576-a-year salary — so much so that an executive search firm had been hired.

Spencer-Stuart & Associates was to be paid roughly $100,000 to assist the search committee headed by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, one of Emanuel’s closest friends in politics.

Chicago’s $186,576-a-year salary falls far short of what top airport executives are paid across the U.S.

Emanuel’s decision to order a nationwide search for Andolino’s replacement signaled a refreshing break from Chicago’s history of filling the airport job with political insiders with no experience running a major airport.

Mary Rose Loney, who held the job twice under Daley, was a rare exception, having run airports in Dallas and Las Vegas.

But Loney left Chicago after clashing with clout-heavy contractors with close ties to the Daley family.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last fall that Emanuel has gotten more than $125,000 in campaign contributions from 51 employees of United Airlines and American Airlines in recent months, as he prepares to make pivotal decisions affecting O’Hare Airport’s two largest carriers.

The number of United and American contributors to Emanuel has soared fivefold since his first mayoral race, a Sun-Times analysis of campaign records found.

The huge jump came as the newly re-elected mayor and his new aviation commissioner face a thicket of issues that affect O’Hare’s two major carriers. Among them: the renegotiation of lease agreements; growing demands for relief from new O’Hare jet noise; and rising complaints about additional O’Hare runway expansion planned to debut in 2020.

HMS Host, which controls 60 percent of the food and beverage concessions at O’Hare, is also operating on a month-to-month contract. So are most of the concessionaires at Midway, where Emanuel grounded his privatization plan after one of only two remaining bidders left the runway.

Andolino’s rise to the job of overseeing, both day-to-day operations at O’Hare and Midway and the massive O’Hare expansion project was a classic story of Chicago clout.

A former part-time make-up artist who once served as queen of Chicago’s Columbus Day parade, she is the granddaughter of a veteran 36th Ward precinct captain and the wife of former Ald. Mark Fary (12th).

Andolino was also a former administrative assistant to Daley’s disgraced City Council floor leader, former Ald. Patrick Huels (11th), and to former Daley political enforcer and Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO) chieftain Victor Reyes.

Daley’s former patronage chief, Streets and Sanitation Commissioner and two others were subsequently convicted of rigging city hiring and promotions to benefit HDO and other pro-Daley political armies.

In 2003, Daley put Andolino, then 36, in the control tower of the massive O’Hare project, even though she had no background in either construction or aviation.

Her only remotely related experience included a stint as first deputy planning commissioner, where she oversaw land acquisition for Daley’s $100 million Neighborhoods Alive plan to build police and fire stations and rode herd over the rebirth of the Brickyard Mall on the Northwest Side.

The move raised eyebrows in aviation circles, but not at City Hall, where Andolino was one of the few people around Daley whom the mayor felt truly comfortable with and turned to repeatedly for advice.

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