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Emanuel insists Ginger Evans was his first choice for aviation chief

Chicago's new aviation boss Ginger Evans speaks Sunday morning as Mayor Rahm Emanuel looks on | (Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times)

After introducing Ginger Evans as the city’s new aviation chief, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Sunday denied reports that she was his second choice for the job.

“As the person who did the final interviews, that is not true,” said Emanuel after a brief news conference held in the international terminal at O’Hare International Airport.

“It was two choices, and it came down to one,” said Emanuel, who cited her “hunger and desire” for the job as tipping-point factors.

Evans — who has three decades of experience in aviation and engineering — previously worked in Washington D.C., where she ran Reagan National and Dulles International Airports.

Sources told the Sun-Times on Friday that Emanuel’s first choice was Vancouver Airport official George Casey, who demanded a salary of $400,000 — a price Emanuel was unwilling to pay.

But Evans will receive an annual salary of $300,000 with a possible $100,000 bonus based on performance. An outside search firm was brought in for $100,000 to help a committee headed by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — one of Emanuel’s closest friends in politics — find the best candidates.

“You all know I’m a hard-driving person with a lot of energy, starting at 7 a.m.,” Emanuel said, referring to his well-known bottomless well of energy and frantic work ethic. “She makes me look calm,” he joked.

Evans’ predecessor, Rosemarie Andolino, was a political hire by former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Andolino, who had no prior airport experience, made an annual salary of $186,576.

Evans spoke briefly from a podium, flanked by Emanuel and LaHood.

“I am absolutely committed, mayor, to building not just bigger facilities, but better, world class facilities,” Evans said. “I’m ready to get started an roll up my sleeves and get some things done.”

Evans, didn’t field any questions Sunday, will have her work cut out for her.

Future aviation projects Emanuel hopes to accomplish include providing a direct express train service for passengers between O’Hare and downtown and updating domestic terminals. Evans will also parachute into a heated debate between neighbors and aviation officials concerning airport noise and runway expansion.

Emanuel said on Sunday that — after speaking with Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta — the number of upcoming local town hall style meetings to discuss noise pollution were doubled to four. A study on the noise issue will be expedited, he said.