June 14--Rosemarie Andolino helped deliver two new runways and better food to O'Hare International Airport in the 11 years since she took the lead role on an expansion project at the city's main airport with no prior experience in the aviation field.
But despite the outlay of billions of dollars on her watch, O'Hare still remains at the bottom of the heap on the one measure that's most important to passengers: Is my flight on time?
Andolino, 47, will step down from her $187,000 a year job as the city's aviation commissioner in October, the mayor's office said Friday. She has held the post since 2009.
She said she plans to stay in aviation, but in the private sector.
"I am being flooded with a bunch of offers today,'' Andolino said Friday, adding that she already had "some irons in the fire." She declined to elaborate beyond saying she will remain in Chicago.
She pointed to achievements within the past year that included more than $3 billion in new projects, among them renovation of O'Hare's international terminal, enhanced cargo facilities, an ongoing overhaul of concessions and restrooms and plans for a consolidated rental car/remote parking garage.
Her exit, however, comes as the Emanuel administration deflects soaring complaints about jet noise in Chicago and the suburbs since the opening of a new O'Hare runway last October.
In addition, the final phase of the city's $10 billion-plus program to reconfigure the airfield and build a new terminal with at least 50 much-needed aircraft gates remains in limbo. The airlines serving O'Hare have refused to invest in further expansion, which they consider unnecessary.
American Airlines on Friday hinted at the tension that often existed between the carriers and Andolino, including a lawsuit that American and United Airlines filed against Chicago several years ago to block plans for a western terminal. The lawsuit was dropped but there are still no plans for a western terminal.
"American has great respect for Rosie, and we have always enjoyed a productive working relationship with her -- even in the past when American and the city had different priorities,'' American said in a statement.
Jac Charlier, a leader an anti-noise group that last month called on Andolino to resign or be fired, said Friday that Andolino is departing because of "failed leadership" under her watch.
Andolino said the furor over the noise issue had nothing to do with the timing of her exit.
"For me, this is the right time,'' she said Friday. "I have been in discussions (with prospective private-sector employers) for awhile now." She said she stayed on for the last 3 1/2 years at Emanuel's request.
Andolino, who directed the O'Hare expansion program beginning in 2003 and was appointed city aviation commissioner in 2009, said she is proud of her record at O'Hare and Midway Airport as well as in earlier city positions spannng 24 years.
"I am not afraid of a challenge," said Andolino, who is married to Mark Fary, a city lobbyist who is a former alderman of the 12th Ward. "When everybody said those runways wouldn't be built, we built them. And we did it in a transparent way."
Emanuel said Friday that Andolino "accomplished a great deal for Chicago's airports. Chicago is grateful for her service."
Tribune reporters Gregory Karp and John Bryne contributed.
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