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Another delay for Midway privatization plans

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Another delay for Midway privatization plans

Chicago is asking for yet another deadline extension - the fifth - on its plan to sell-off Midway Airport to private investors.

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The City of Chicago is asking the federal government for yet another deadline extension on a plan to privatize Midway Airport.

Meanwhile, one expert says Chicago politics are only making matters worse. Chicago’s plan to privatize Midway for about $2.5 billion is still on hold, after funding for the deal collapsed in 2009 following the economic downturn.

Depaul University transportation professor Joe Schwieterman said the latest delay is especially unfortunate, because the markets for venture capital - which would fund the deal - are actually looking up.

“The momentum’s being lost, and now we have a mayor’s race coming up,” Schwieterman said. “It’s looking pretty cloudy right now.”

The rage against privatizing city assets has become a populist rallying point for several mayoral candidates, who point to the controversial $1.15 billion sell-off of the city’s parking meters in 2008. The deal resulted in steep hourly parking rates, only to have the city’s inspector general release a report saying Chicago should have been paid more money for the meters.

In the race to replace outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, whose administration has drafted several high-dollar privatization deals in recent years, candidates are now calling for more transparency in future privatization and, in some cases, a halt to them altogether.

Schwieterman said all of this is too bad for Midway deal, which he said would be good for the airport and would provide much-needed cash to a city with deep financial problems.

“I think there’s a real risk here that what I consider good policy ... it gets caught up in that whole emotion of parking meters, of Daley trying to use smoke and mirrors, people perceive,” Schwieterman said.

He said politicizing the deal could scare off investors and ground it for good.

A Daley administration official says the mayor won’t try to get the privatization deal done before he leaves office, saying the issue should be left to Daley’s successor.

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