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Emanuel aide with key role in O’Hare expansion plan takes top United job

City Hall | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

City Hall | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The top mayoral aide who brokered a bitter dispute over O’Hare Airport gates between United and American Airlines has taken a top job with United.

O’Hare’s largest carrier on Thursday named Deputy Mayor Robert Rivkin the airline’s senior vice president and general counsel.

Deputy Mayor Robert Rivkin | Provided photo

Rivkin is the former Delta Airlines executive who served as general counsel to former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s closest friends in politics.

Last year, Rivkin played a pivotal role in negotiating airline use and lease agreements that laid the groundwork for Emanuel’s $8.7 billion O’Hare expansion plan.

He sided with hometown United, O’Hare’s flagship carrier, in a gate dispute with American that nearly derailed or delayed the project.

American had accused Emanuel of favoring its archrival by awarding United five additional gates.

American Airlines threatened legal action that could have grounded the expansion plan only to sign on after the city made a hazy promise to speed construction of three common-use gates that favor American.

Now, Rivkin will be one of United’s top executives.

Emanuel had charged Rivkin with negotiating a contract with visionary billionaire Elon Musk to build a “Tesla-in-tunnel” transit line to whisk passengers between downtown and O’Hare.

But, the clock is expected to run out on a project that mayoral candidates are unanimous in opposing before Emanuel leaves office.

Aside from Emanuel, Rivkin was the project’s No. 1 cheerleader. Late last year, he returned from a California test run raving about the technology.

A press release announcing the high-profile hiring quoted United CEO Oscar Munoz as singing Rivkin’s praises.

“Bob’s distinguished career in public service, the legal community and the airline industry make him an ideal fit for this critical role on our United team,” Munoz said.

“He’s a proven leader who will make an immediate impact as we work to fulfill United’s incredible potential.”