July 10--Mayor Rahm Emanuel has tapped a close friend, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, to head a search committee to recommend top candidates for Chicago's next aviation commissioner, officials said Wednesday.
The effort to conduct what LaHood described as a "nationwide search'' may represent a break from the past, when appointments were based largely on local politics and the individuals selected had no prior experience working at an airport or an airline.
That was the case with the current aviation chief, Rosemarie Andolino, who had something of an improbable rise at City Hall under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Several past commissioners who were exceptions to the rule because they had amassed previous aviation experience, including Mary Rose Loney and Nuria Fernandez, often clashed with Daley over policy issues and contracting decisions and they didn't last long in the job.
Andolino announced last month that she will leave her $187,000-a-year job in October to pursue an aviation position in the private sector. Andolino has been aviation commissioner since 2009, but she headed the runway-expansion program at O'Hare International Airport starting in 2003.
"Mayor Emanuel is pleased that a former U.S. secretary of transportation will lead this effort, given how critical O'Hare is to Chicago's economic future,'' City Hall spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said. "We want to start this process soon to ensure we can identify the best candidate and provide a smooth transition.''
Task force members for the search committee that LaHood will lead will be announced soon, Quinn said.
LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Peoria, said in a phone interview Wednesday that he expects strong interest in the city's top aviation post.
"You don't have to be from Illinois. You don't have to be from Chicago," LaHood said.
"Once we put out a notice that the job is now available, I think we will have people from all around the country and a few from around the world," he said. "This is an airport that is positioned to go to the next level."
LaHood, who said he and Emanuel talk two or three times a week on a range of issues, called the mayor's decision to conduct a nationwide search "a very professional approach to finding the best professional."
Quinn did not say whether the successful candidate would be an established aviation professional, but that the next commissioner will be responsible for strengthening Chicago's airports and provide them with a "competitive advantage that results in economic and job growth for Chicago,'' while continuing to improve customer service at O'Hare and Midway Airport.
Several of the best-run airports in the U.S., including Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, have been managed by veteran former airline executives.
The mayor's plan to appoint LaHood was first reported Wednesday by the Chicago Sun-Times.
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