It took more than a year of complaints from Chicago neighborhood groups representing thousands of taxpayers, a tough re-election campaign, a Springfield intervention, and even pleas from members of Congress before the Emanuel administration agreed to hear grievances from homeowners concerned about excessive jet noise from O’Hare Airport.
And after all that, the mayor hasn’t even scheduled a personal meeting with impacted residents — he’s sending surrogates from the city’s Aviation Department, according to a recent Better Government Association story.
Why in the world didn’t City Hall reach out to the affected communities earlier? And why did it take Springfield to finally get City Hall off the dime?
The mayor admitted in a memorable campaign ad that, “I can rub people the wrong way or talk when I should listen.”
Well, mayor, it’s time to listen.
Everyone appreciates the value of O’Hare as an economic engine for the Chicago area, but louder noise is making a lot of North Side residents miserable, and worried about an adverse economic impact on their families if their homes lose value.
How bad is it?
• One North Side resident reports an 18 percent drop in his latest home assessment, and the Cook County assessor is trying to determine if that’s an anomaly or part of a widespread decline.
• A newly elected alderman worries about a mass exodus from his ward to escape the noise nuisance.
• North Siders report hundreds of planes buzzing over their homes every day, almost twice as many as two years ago.
The main culprit is a new east-west runway that opened in 2013, and some residents fear even more noise when another east-west runway is completed in October.
It’s a serious issue, and Emanuel’s constituents would appreciate the courtesy of a sympathetic ear.
Admittedly, it’s complicated and involves many parties: City Hall, the Federal Aviation Administration, the airlines and, of course, the affected homeowners.
It’s also an old problem.
The O’Hare Modernization Project goes back almost 15 years to Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration, so airport noise turns out to be another legacy albatross passed down to Emanuel from his predecessor, along with the parking meter privatization fiasco, the pension crisis and the financial mess.
But it’s not good government to shut people out, especially those who choose to live in the city, pay their taxes and, in many cases, provide some of our most important public services.
The mayor’s office says Emanuel will talk to political leaders and federal aviation officials, and is “sensitive” to residents’ concerns, but no face-to-face meetings have been scheduled.
That, unfortunately, rekindles the perception that dogged the mayor during the 2012 firestorm over school closings on the South and West Sides — that he’s insensitive to the people who live in the city’s outlying neighborhoods.
Ginger Evans, the city’s new Aviation commissioner, promises to study runway and noise reduction proposals, and listen carefully at three public hearings requested by state lawmakers.
That’s progress, but let me urge the mayor to join her at one or more of those sessions, and do more listening than talking, if he wants his mea culpa to be taken seriously, and not dismissed as another cynical campaign pledge.
Andy Shaw is president & CEO of the Better Government Association.
Follow Andy Shaw on Twitter: @andyshawbga