Aldermen briefed on Emanuel’s plan to strengthen hand in airline talks

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Would passengers be tempted to gamble at an O’Hare casino while waiting between flights at O’Hare International Airport? Garry McCarthy thinks so, but one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s allies on the City Council is skeptical. | Getty Images

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to strengthen his hand in airline lease negotiations that include a makeover and expansion of O’Hare Airport terminals appeared to be cleared for takeoff Thursday.

Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd), chairman of the City Council’s Aviation Committee, emerged from a daylong series of closed-door aldermanic briefings to say he is “in full support” of the “O’Hare Rates and Operations” ordinance introduced by the mayor last month.

“It allows us the ability to get some things at the airport that aren’t getting done now,” Zalewski said.

“In Terminal 1, which is basically a United terminal, some of the roofs are leaking and we can’t get agreement between some of the airlines on how to repair those. At least under this temporary rate agreement, it’ll give us the ability to do basic things like that until the big use and lease agreement hopefully gets finalized by May.”

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, described the mayor’s ordinance as a “backstop.”

It would establish operating ground rules, landing fees and rents airlines must pay in the event that lease negotiations are not finalized by May 11, 2018, when the existing 30-year airline use agreements expire.

If the high-stakes negotiations drag on beyond May 11, the complex ordinance would remain in place while city negotiators continue to hammer out “intricate business terms for nearly 60 tenants and a joint plan for capital investment,” billed as the largest in O’Hare history.

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Airlines at O’Hare would be required to sign a “Letter of Authorization” — either with a term ending Dec. 31, 2019, or with a month-to-month deadline.

United and American airlines, O’Hare’s two largest carriers, have said they’re encouraged by the progress made in lease talks and hope to wrap up those negotiations before the deadline.

Thursday’s aldermanic briefings were conducted by Deputy Mayor Bob Rivkin. Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans was there, but she didn’t take the lead.

Ald. Edward Burke (14th) has been on the warpath about Evans, raising a political stink about the foul odor emanating from sound-reduction windows installed by the city in homes around Midway Airport. Evans was also raked over the coals during budget hearings last month over herdecision to strip the word “police” from the badges, uniforms and vehicles of unarmed aviation officers.

Asked whether the heightened tension between Evans and the aldermen threatened to ground the ordinance, O’Connor said: “It shouldn’t. This is just good business.”

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