Mayor Richard M. Daley’s midnight strike on Meigs Field earlier this week is still the talk of the town, and the business community is buzzing about how the mayor damaged Chicago’s standing as a center for commerce and further eroded his relationship with local corporate leaders.

An online poll taken by Crain's Web site found that 63% of respondents believe fewer business executives will come to the city for day trips, while 59% say the lack of a lakefront airport will dent Chicago’s stature as a business center. A drop in business conference attendance — already faltering because of the war with Iraq and weak economy — is an impact cited by 41% of respondents.

By contrast, only 3% expect the local business climate to improve because of the mayor's action. (Figures exceed 100% because respondents could choose more than one answer.), Crain’s Web site, conducted the unscientific poll April 1-3, in the wake of Mayor Daley’s unannounced, nighttime raid on Meigs early Monday morning; 2,350 people responded.

The mayor's action has created quite a stir in Chicago and made national headlines. He's been blasted by critics for acting without notifying aviation authorities, pilots or Meigs' controllers before ordering city crews to disable the airport's only runway. Sixteen planes were stranded until Wednesday, when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cleared them to take off from an adjacent taxiway.

While Mayor Daley cited homeland security concerns as the reason behind the closure, many people doubt safety will increase. Only 10% of respondents say closing Meigs was a good security move, while 47% say it will have no impact on safety and another 40% believe it actually increases danger and risk downtown.

Chicagoans also took issue with how the mayor handled the closure. The majority of respondents, 74%, say they are troubled that he closed Meigs in the middle of the night without any notice; 15% say he should at least have alerted the FAA beforehand.

Very few, only 4%, supported Mayor Daley's decision, saying it was legal and appropriate.

Strained ties

When asked how Mayor Daley’s action will affect his relationship with local business leaders, 47% of poll respondents say it will go from bad to worse, while 38% believe it will cause a negative stir for the short term. Just 1% say the mayor's closure of Meigs Field will improve his business ties.

While Chicago industrialist and civic leader Lester Crown has publicly denounced the mayor’s action, other local business group leaders have remained silent on the issue. Repeated calls to leaders of World Business Chicago and Chicago Metropolis 2020 seeking comment on Crain's poll were not returned.

Yet it's clear some local CEOs are angry. In a letter to Mayor Daley, obtained Friday by Crain’s, Howard Witt, chairman and CEO of DesPlaines-based Littelfuse Inc., said his praise and support for the mayor ended on Monday.

“This Gestapo-like action is personally offensive and does unquestionable damage to your relationship with the Chicago business community,” Mr. Witt wrote. “Your attempt to rationalize this move for security reasons is weak to say the least.”

Mayor Daley's overall public image also will suffer because of the brouhaha, say 86% of respondents who agreed the Meigs' move was "dictatorial." About 9% said it won't affect his image and a scant 4% say his image will improve because "he's a great leader who cares about our safety."

At least one business group is putting its support behind the mayor. Jerry Roper, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, said shutting down Meigs will protect the city's workers, visitors and landmarks at a time of war.

He also said it's highly unlikely the closure will have any noticeable impact on convention attendance, given that most attendees fly into O'Hare International or Midway airports.

"If the airport is closed forever, it will not bruise (Chicago's business stature) that badly. A very small percentage of our visitors use it," he said.

For years Mayor Daley has wanted to close Meigs Field and replace it with a lakefront park, which has fueled suspicion that he used homeland security as a ruse to accomplish that long-standing goal.

In predicting the fate of the property, 32% of respondents say it will become a park or tourist attraction, and 32% say it will remain closed indefinitely due to legal wrangling. Only 14% say Meigs will reopen as Chicago's only lakefront airport.