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4/1/03 Roeper

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Mayor leaves his mark in worst way at Meigs

April 1, 2003

BY RICHARD ROEPER SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

Now I know how Meigs feels. Please bear with me as I navigate around these big X's, but it wasn't my doing. Late last night, the city conducted a stealth raid on Page 11, with police-escorted bulldozers attempting to close down this column for reasons of "Homeland Security."

Apparently "sarcasm" and "commentary" are considered legitimate threats in these troubled times, and Mayor Daley ordered the earthmoving crews to tear up this space for the good of the city.

Fortunately, I heard a rumbling in the middle of the night and was able to chase away the bulldozers and obtain a temporary restraining order before they ruined this area forever. And I've arranged for some of the Wacker Drive construction crews to stop by later today and patch things up. They've assured me of a full, length-of-the-page runway to work on by tomorrow.

But unless it was an early April Fool's joke, Meigs is probably gone for good--a real mugging victim. A little tip for the mayor: If you don't want the media and the residents of Chicago and anyone with a working brain to question your motives for closing an airport that you've always wanted to close, don't make your land-grab deep into a Sunday night with no warning, not even to the governor of Illinois. It makes you look kinda sneaky and arrogant.

Let me take that back. Forget about the "kinda" part.

I mean, come on. People were showing up at Meigs for work Monday morning. Sixteen planes were still parked there. But Meigs had to be closed down in the dark of night to "make Chicago a safer city and make us feel like a safer city," according to Daley, who said recent flight restrictions weren't enough.

"First of all, a temporary flight restriction is just that--temporary," Daley said. "It could be lifted at any time. More important, it does not address the problem that occurs every day as aircraft approach Meigs Field within a few hundred yards and only a few seconds flight time of our tallest buildings."

Then Daley went Chicken Little on us: "Those airplanes appear to be going to Meigs, but with a sudden turn they could cause a terrible tragedy downtown or in our crowded parks. That scares me, and it scares people who live, work and visit downtown and use our parks. They should not have to wonder whether every airplane that appears to be headed for Meigs might have other intentions."

But if Meigs is so scary, why did the city allow some 31,900 landings and departures last year?

Perhaps I should introduce the mayor to Baby Bob, my 2-year-old nephew. On Sunday afternoon--the last day of life for Meigs Field--at a family get-together in a high-rise on the lakefront, Baby Bob insisted we open the blinds so he could get a good look at Lake Michigan and all the big buildings and the cool little airport. And even though he's just a miniature-sized person, he wasn't scared, not one bit.

In fact, nobody at the get-together seemed concerned. Who knew that people who live and visit downtown have been worrying themselves silly about the prospect of some seemingly Meigs-bound light aircraft taking a hard turn and slamming into one of our skyscrapers?

Last week Daley told us he wouldn't use Homeland Security concerns as an excuse to shut down Meigs. This week he used Homeland Security concerns as an excuse to shut down Meigs. Carving up that runway in the middle of the night was one of the silliest and stupidest things the mayor has ever done.

E-mail: rroeper@sun times.com

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