Mayoral contender Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is once again accusing Mayor Rahm Emanuel of turning a deaf ear to complaints about O’Hare International Airport jet noise in an attempt to pump up his vote on the Northwest Side, where he fared better than expected on Election Day.
Standing at Wilson Park in the Portage Park neighborhood, Garcia promised again to work with concerned residents to “find solutions to cut noise pollution.”
“We will develop a comprehensive, neighborhood-based plan to allocate air traffic fairly,” Garcia said, adding that he supports plans to continue using criss-crossing diagonal runways, even after a new parallel runway opens later this year. Killing off any diagonal runways could shift even more flights over city residents east of O’Hare already complaining about a bombardment of new jet noise.
Among other promises, Garcia said he supports using flight routes that take planes over industrial areas and nearby forest preserve land and said he would try to increase their use.
“There’s no reason for the densely populated area around O’Hare to be taking the brunt of the overflights when a viable alternative exists,” he said.
Asked by a reporter if he was over-promising, Garcia took a shot at Emanuel, who for months has refused to either meet with noise-weary residents around O’Hare or give them the City Council hearing they have demanded for more than a year.
“I know that a good mayor is responsive to neighbors and neighborhoods everywhere in Chicago. This is an issue that affects tens of thousands of residents in the O’Hare area. It’s important to be here,” Garcia said. “It’s important to meet them. It’s important to hear them. It’s important to feel what they feel. That’s primarily what they’re asking. Can we provide everything thats being requested? Maybe not, but what’s important is to engage them.”
Still, the mayor insisted Friday that he’s sensitive to and has acted to alleviate resident concerns.
“Since Day One, we’ve put in more insulation in homes and we’re gonna continue that aggressive strategy. We have now eight new noise monitors out in the neighborhoods so we can give the data to the FAA to speed up their survey,” Emanuel said.
“O’Hare is a tremendous economic engine and job creator in Chicago. But it also has to be a good neighbor. And the FAA determines this. That’s why we’re working with them and giving them the information and we’re not waiting for the FAA. Which is why we’ve expedited all the home insulations and we’ll continue to do that.”
But why not meet with Northwest Side homeowners and at least hear them out?
“We have met. I’ve actually met with all the aldermen in that effected area. As a former congressman [whose district was] impacted by O’Hare, my goal is to make sure to take those voices and make sure that the FAA resolves this issue to everybody’s liking,” he said.
Ald. John Arena (45th) said Friday at the park that he’s never met with the mayor regarding the O’Hare noise issue.
The mayor’s refusal to meet with Northwest Side residents helps explain why Garcia did better than expected in Northwest Side wards affected by the dramatic change in flight patterns — and why some of those same wards lead the city in early voting for the April 7 runoff.
More than 100,000 votes for mayor are up for grabs in the five Chicago wards most affected by O’Hare jet noise.
In the 45th Ward, Garcia got 35.1 percent of the vote on Feb. 24 to Emanuel’s 47.9 percent. In the 41st Ward, Garcia got 31.1 percent to Emanuel’s 47.6 percent. In the 47th Ward, Garcia got 40.1 percent to 51.2 percent for the mayor. And even in the 40th Ward, home to the mayor’s City Council floor leader, Garcia got 42.8 percent to Emanuel’s 47.1 percent.
So far, the highest early vote totals in Chicago’s runoff have been recorded in the 41st Ward, with 2,962 votes cast through Friday. The 45th Ward was fourth-highest, with 1,692 votes through Friday. Another ward in the flight path, the 47th, had 1,334 votes cast.
Complaints about O’Hare jet noise have skyrocketed to record numbers since flight patterns were dramatically altered more than a year ago as part of the $8 billion O’Hare Modernization Program.
The big switch left Chicago and suburban areas immediately east and west of the airport suddenly bearing 70 percent of all O’Hare air traffic. Residents who never experienced heavy jet noise before contended they were blindsided by the blitz of new planes over their homes.
Aside from adding eight monitors to the 33 monitors already tracking O’Hare jet noise, Emanuel and his now-departed Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino turned a deaf ear toward those complaints.
Contributing: Rosalind Rossi