The Pilot's Lounge #60:
Daley, Meigs And The Tyranny Of Small Minds

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Like others in The Pilot's Lounge, AVweb's Rick Durden was stunned by the violent, dictatorial act that took place on the western shore of Lake Michigan. This month, Rick bemoans the triumph of fear and manipulation, and presents a call to action.

The Pilot's Lounge

The first terrorist attack on a national landmark after September 11, 2001, has occurred. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed, but the callousness of the act, perpetrated in the dark of night, by a ruthless, calculating, cold-blooded thug, was made more horrible by its far-reaching implications. The act, an assault on a place held dear by Americans, was carried out not by some alien to our shores in pursuit of a warped political agenda. The attack on one of our most revered aviation icons was not carried out by a crazed right-winger with a truck full of explosives. It was worse. It was effectuated by an American with no regard for our system of laws. It was carried out by the type of person that our president has sworn he will pursue and bring to justice, the type of person that even now our troops are fighting and dying to eradicate from this world, the terrorist dictator. The national landmark and treasure that is Meigs Field was attacked on the orders of "Da Mare," Richard Daley, of Chicago.

Taking a leaf from the book written in blood and terror by the most heinous of gangs in U.S. history, the Ku Klux Klan, Da Mare sent his nightriders to demolish a place where inner-city black children were being taken on a regular basis to learn that there is a big world beyond the mean streets of Chicago and that they can dream of a better life. Mayor Daley the Terrorist arrived in the cold of night to cleanse a portion of his city of a minority that was not good enough to be there, pilots.

It did not matter to Da Mare that aircraft had been an integral part of the Chicago lakefront scene for more than a hundred years, beginning with balloons and later, airplanes, flying from Grant Park. In the 1930s, recognizing the continuing value of aircraft to the vitality of the city and the enjoyment of its citizens, Meigs Field was built on land reclaimed from Lake Michigan for the Century of Progress Exposition. Even though it was an old airport, modern technology had converted it to a national landmark because it was the airport used in the most wildly popular computer flight simulator program ever created. Thousands upon thousands of people, pilots and non-pilots alike, who dreamed of flight and who bought the program, spent hours learning how an airplane flew and dreamed of someday flying to that bright, sunlit airport they saw on their computer screen, Meigs Field.

Now, despite giving his word to keep the airport open, Daley not only closed Meigs, he did $500,000 damage to it in the process.

In the aftermath of the attack on Meigs Field, I spent quite a bit of time in the Pilots Lounge, here at the virtual airport, talking with men and women who were devastated by Daley's tyrannical action. They took it personally, because Meigs long ago became the symbol for every small airport in this country that is under attack by closed-minded bureaucrats, anti-airport neighbors and greedy hustlers. One of the best descriptions I heard was from someone who had recently obtained his pilot certificate after using the Microsoft Flight Simulator program and was looking forward to his first long cross-country flight with Meigs as the destination. He said he felt just as he did back when he was in second grade. He had done chores around the house and carefully saved up his allowance over what he recalled as an extended time and was finally on the way to the store to buy the item he had longed for only to have the neighborhood bully beat him up and take his money. I couldn't think of a better description for how Daley's thuggery has affected those of us who work so hard for the hours we can spend in the sky and have sought flight for our entire lives. Beyond the vandalism to a runway and theft of our dreams, his reminder that a dictator is responsible to no one was a knife in the gut to thousands of pilots.

I was pleased to see that the press was uniform in condemning Daley's terrorism. Even the Chicago Tribune's architecture critic, himself a proponent of closing Meigs, on April 2, 2003, expressed his "horror that King Richard II would go about this surprise shutdown in a way that was so clumsy, so heavy-handed and so downright dictatorial." If that man, who has repeatedly written that only the hopelessly wealthy and elite use Meigs, and went on to claim in his April 2 editorial that the Friends of Meigs was merely a front for the "state government officials and lobbyists who use the airport as their private landing strip" can be critical of Da Mare, perhaps there is hope.

I was quite moved by a letter to the editor in the Chicago Tribune on April 6, 2003, from David McDonald of Chicago. He lost his wife in the World Trade Center on September 11 and castigated Mayor Daley for having the temerity to equate the sneak closure of Meigs with protecting the people of Chicago from a terrorist attack.

As things quieted down in the Lounge, I thought about the fact that I heard of the attack on a Monday morning and had been planning to fly into Meigs the next day to conduct business in Chicago. I resolved to carry on the business I was planning, but I would not spend the night in a hotel within the city limits of Chicago and would do my best to avoid spending any money within the city itself. In the week that followed the attack, up to the time this was written, I followed the developments; reading of the strong negative reaction by virtually everyone to the naked arrogance of Daley, listening to Daley again pretend he could not talk coherently as he attempted to play to the fears of the public to terrorism in his Monday morning news conference on Meigs; watching and silently applauding pilots making low passes over Meigs on Tuesday afternoon; learning that the Friends of Meigs had, to my surprise, obtained a temporary restraining order from a Cook County judge to prevent further demolition for a short time; volunteered to help any legal challenge put together by AOPA and heard that the City of Chicago (through its dummy, the Parks Department) would be filing a motion to dismiss the action of the Friends of Meigs. I lived in Chicago for seven years, and moved away partially because of its endemic and pervasive corruption, but I do enjoy visiting the city regularly, and am pretty cynical about the efforts of someone to fight Da Mare and the political machine he controls. I will not make any predictions as to whether Meigs can be rescued this time, but I am going to do what I can to help. I ask that each of you do the same. However, as with any fight, it's wise to know the enemy and his techniques, so even though this may make for a long column, some perspective on Chicago politics and the use of fear as a weapon are probably in order.

Machine Politics And Daley

First of all, it is a truism of Chicago politics since before the fire that a Chicago politician's word is never any good unless there is muscle to continue to force it to have effect. Daley made a solemn vow to keep Meigs open, but when another Illinois politician blocked the follow-up federal legislation I cringed. There was no requirement in the agreement Daley made that legislation had to be passed to make it enforceable, but, because contracts between politicians are rarely enforceable by those directly affected by those contracts, I figured Daley would try something, I just didn't know what.

Now I do.

Daley is a walking example of the adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. He is the classic dictator. He has mapped out his area of influence and carefully expanded it. He controls Chicago and recently took over Illinois by the fortuitous act of being ready with his politicians when the party that had run things became so publicly incompetent and greedy that it was tossed out. Daley is never obviously greedy; there is no indication he profits financially from his position, although his select friends do so, handsomely. He is in politics because of the rush he gets from the exercise of raw power. Until about three years ago he was fairly subtle, but now, with his power consolidated at the state and national level, he feels comfortable taking steps that would otherwise be considered outrageous.

Daley is immune to public opinion. As a boy, and then a young man, he watched his father take over the gangland machine that had run Chicago politics for well over a century. The machine itself is apolitical. Although calling itself Democratic, it follows no political party's ideology; it is purely pragmatic and exists to continue its existence and maximize its power and influence at all levels. The machine has ties to politicians outside of Chicago in both major parties, as it cannot afford to let its political fortunes swing with one or the other. As a result, it has maintained its position within the city regardless of what either party does within the state or nationally.

Mayor Daley the Younger made his own way into a position of power in a city famous for its eye-gouging, groin-kicking style of politics. He is not at all thin-skinned; if name-calling is the lawn-tennis level of gamesmanship in Chicago, he long ago graduated to all-star wrestling where he choreographs the matches and only those he anoints get into office. It has to be understood that his power is absolutely pervasive within Chicago because of the structure of the political system. The mayor of Chicago is the last of the great, powerful mayors in this country, with complete control of a spoils system that extends all the way to who picks up the trash. There are no effective checks and balances. If you want a contract with the city or if you want anything done in your neighborhood, you have to deal with the Mayor's machine. There is no real civil service selection system; there is no competitive bidding on any project that matters; the Mayor says who gets fat and who gets nothing. If you want part of the action, you will vote for the Mayor and those he selects. In the election held a few months ago, Daley got nearly 80% of the vote. He picked his opponent. Less than a third of Chicagoans bothered to go to the polls.

Chicago doesn't have much of a democratic tradition. It's not efficient and it confuses the citizenry. The few years the machine was out of power after Daley Da Foist died were years of turmoil. Residents didn't know whom to grease to get their trash picked up, or abandoned cars towed, and they risked stroking the wrong alderman. In the winter of 1978-79 the city was so disorganized that they couldn't even get the snow plowed. When Daley Da Second took over, he whipped things back into shape, made sure the trash got picked up, the potholes were filled and the snow was plowed, so Chicagoans were happy. They knew whom to call when the neighbor upstairs threw parties until 3 a.m. Daley even made the subway trains run on time.

How The Machine Works

If one of Daley's actions or the way he decided who got a contract hurt a business owner and the owner made the mistake of complaining, the business would suddenly be aswarm with building inspectors who would find dozens of code violations and issue massive fines while the sidewalk in front of the establishment would be torn up for "improvements" that never seemed to be finished. Recently, when Daley wanted to give a hugely inflated contract for large, ugly bus-stop shelters along Chicago's premiere shopping area, Michigan Avenue, to one of his buddies, the merchants of the "Magnificent Mile" objected. Daley, through one of his henchmen, advised them to pipe down or face retribution by the city. These merchants were not mom-and-pop stores, but the likes of Bloomingdales, Cartier, Gucci, Crate and Barrel and other sophisticated, national and international businesses. To a one, they caved in and shut up.

During the Clinton boom years of the '90s when the national debt was being reduced and every city in the country was experiencing the unusual circumstance of plenty of money in its coffers and was reducing property taxes due to budget surpluses, Chicago was staggering under the massive costs of its corruption, kickbacks, payoffs and no-bid contracts to such an extent that it still ran such a deficit and had to continually increase taxes on its residents.

As a precursor to the Meigs debacle, Daley had sided with the owners of the Bears NFL team in wanting an expanded football stadium. The Bears had played at historic Soldier Field, the landmark memorial to our soldiers that stands on the lakefront directly across a marina from Meigs. Its classic Greek colonnade lent an aura of dignity to a football stadium unseen anywhere else. The stadium was a lovely compliment to the people-friendly nature of the lakefront, especially as its traditional architecture harmonized with the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium. There was an overwhelming desire to keep the Bears on the lakefront because Soldier Field was, like Meigs, a place for people to engage in the recreation that appealed to them. Naturally, there was a healthy, ongoing debate as to how best to revitalize Soldier Field for the future, including some question as to whether it should be expanded at all.

Daley has never liked public input. He knew what he wanted to do, so, even as the crowds were departing the stadium following the final Bears game, during the uproar over the Gore-Bush election mess, Daley sent in da boys to start gutting the interior. He ran heavy equipment at a breakneck pace, presenting those who wanted to preserve Soldier Field with a fait acommpli. The lawsuits filed to enjoin Daley's actions were too little, too late. His ballet with heavy equipment was a success. Soldier Field has been expanded the Daley way. The columns are about the only things remaining and yes, they are still there, but they look like puny afterthoughts installed to hold up what appears to be the largest toilet bowl in the world. It makes even the ugliest airport look attractive.

Just as Hitler learned when he marched his troops into the Sudetenland, Austria and Czechoslovakia, Daley learned from Soldier Field that when a dictator makes a land grab, the initial outcry dies out pretty fast and the world accepts the new status quo. However, Hitler also learned it's possible to go too far.

The Lakefront and Meigs

Daniel Burnham, a noted architect working in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, drew up a plan for the Chicago lakefront that called for a park running the length of the Chicago city limits. It was to be a place for people. It was to be a place for people to recreate, to get away from a crowded, coal-dirtied city and enjoy life. The goal was never completely realized, but it lacks only a very few miles of running continuously from the north to south city limits, so it is nearly 20 miles long all told. Because of technology and adaptations to fit changing times, it is a park that is even greater and lovelier than the original plan; where people walk, play tennis, picnic, play softball, watch airplanes land and takeoff, watch professional football, ride horses, swim, roller blade, and ride bicycles. It contains some marinas for those well enough off to berth a boat. There are secluded spots where the occasional resident is knifed or shot. There are several outstanding museums. There is a very large, modernistic and not terribly attractive convention center, McCormick Place, just south of Soldier Field. Despite controversy when it was built, it is also a place for people to go because it houses things from auto shows to ballets to plumbing conventions.

To the south the parkland becomes less well maintained, because the Chicago machine has been less willing to expend assets for the black citizens of Chicago. Jackson Park, adjacent to the one remaining building from the 1893 Columbian Exposition, the Museum of Science and Industry, was designed as a nature-lover's delight, with gently rolling hills, numerous ponds and secluded areas. In fact it was so delightful, its design seems to have been copied for the park that is scheduled to replace Meigs Field. Yet, Jackson Park has been allowed to run down. It is not particularly safe to venture into parts of it during certain times of the day. So, rather than spend a little money to bring back the essence of Jackson Park, because it is in a largely black area of Chicago, Daley wants to spend $39 million (interestingly, he has recently dropped that number to $27 million) so his contractor buddies can build a park that anywhere else would cost about $5 million so the white folks of Chicago can have a nature park without having to go to a section of town that might make them uncomfortable. Over time the vagaries of city budgets for park maintenance will mean that the crime rate will soar and people will become afraid to use the Meigs Park; just as they are now afraid to use some of the more remote parks along the lakeshore. It's interesting that no one has been mugged on the ramp at Meigs, yet once it is gone, its replacement will be a less safe place for residents.

Daley, like his father, consolidated his hold on power by controlling who got big construction contracts. Meigs is the last big open area and Daley is salivating over it. Despite holding nearly absolute power over the city, the Meigs construction contact means even more power and Daley is determined to get it.

Fear Itself

Despite Daley's pious assertion, the terrorist attack on Meigs was not about protecting the people of Chicago (which he was forced to admit two weeks later). Even those who favored its closure admit that such a claim is fraudulent. It was about power and control and perhaps, the paranoia of a dictator. Daley cannot control the airplanes that fly over his city and it drives him nuts. When calling for a no-fly zone over the city for the last two years, he's repeatedly said that no one "controls" those airplanes. His personality is that of the obsessive need to control. He controls a city, yet he cannot control those free citizens who fly airplanes. So he did his best to instill fear of little airplanes in the public.

We in aviation know that little airplanes are not a significant threat to the people of Chicago. We know the citizens are in far greater danger in their cars or from secondhand smoke. But the letters to the editor confirm that Daley's manipulation of fear was at least partially successful. He immediately used, and some writers bought into, that most horrible of phrases to be created by the doyens of paranoia in Washington, "homeland security." It is the new watchword for loss of liberty. We pilots have watched it used on a national level to take action to contract our rights as citizens while patting us on the head and saying it was for our own good to keep us safe. Daley is "homeland security" incarnate, a chilling reminder of the evil of the Third Reich and its phrase "the fatherland" and Stalin's murderous rampages in support of "the motherland." Daley played on the fears of Chicagoans when he went so far as to say in his press conference that the tower at Meigs provided no level of safety because it had no "firepower," creating gruesome images of anti-aircraft guns blasting away at a Cessna 172 hell-bent on bouncing off the side of a skyscraper while pedestrians were injured or killed by the falling shrapnel from the guns.

What is truly frightening is that other politicians are already relying on Daley’s actions in calling for closure of other airports, restrictions on general aviation airplanes at large airports and further airspace restrictions because "little airplanes must be a danger to a city, otherwise Mayor Daley wouldn’t have closed Meigs." There is a distressing chain reaction that occurs when the moron factor gets high enough.

We are all afraid of the unknown, no matter how bravely we whistle as we walk past the graveyard. We particularly fear those who are above us, on the "high ground." Remember the terribly frightened debates in Congress after the first Sputnik was launched and the rhetoric about how the Soviets held the high ground? A beeping 12-inch ball had our entire country absolutely convinced that the Soviets had an ultimate weapon it was about to drop and put an end to Elvis and our way of life.

Fear is crippling, which is why it is such an effective tactic of terrorists. In World War I the Germans were able to carry a few bombs over England in dirigibles and vastly underpowered bombers. Their crews did their best to drop them on populated areas causing a comparative handful of casualties. The public reaction to those aptly named terror raids was near hysteria and a demand that the government ensure the safety of the citizenry. Sound familiar? A large number of pursuit squadrons (they weren't called fighters at that time) were recalled to England to sit around waiting for the call to chase the occasional raider at a time British airmen were desperately needed on the front. The unreasonable fear of an uninformed public over a very small risk led to actions that adversely affected the ability of the RFC (later RAF) to prosecute the war in the air. Thus, the terror raids were successful because they changed the behavior of a government in a counterproductive fashion.

Unreasoning fear in World War II lead the government to initially ground all general aviation airplanes through the expedient of removing their propellers. "Don't ya know there's a war on?"

Fear sells. It is the most effective marketing technique devised. We buy deodorant because we are scared we might just smell bad. However, it has to be a "manly" or "feminine" deodorant, because we're even afraid we might buy the wrong kind. Politicians know that the best way to win an election is to successfully portray the opponent in a way that incites fear in the electorate. As a result, we get politicians whose only skill is getting what they want by using our fears. We are spending billions and grounding general aviation airplanes in the name of "security" because of a level of fear and because we are a minority that does not have the power to stop the juggernaut unleashed in our direction. We are the convenient minority right now, something that is a little disorienting for the largely white males who make up the pilot community. We aren't used to being in the gun sight.

Turn On The Light

The only way to fight fear and disarm those who purvey it is through knowledge. When the light is turned on, the ghost in the bedroom closet turns out to be a white shirt. We in aviation have to turn on the light, so we take away the weapon of demigods such as Mayor Daley.

We have to change the nonflying public's perception of us. The same architecture critic who was unhappy with Daley's technique for getting Meigs, nevertheless has, for years, referred to the users of Meigs as elitist, wealthy, fat cats, a privileged minority with their expensive toys. I don't know whether he can be educated, but I offer the comments of Jim Knutson of Minnesota: "Wonder how many of those 'fat cats' will be bringing their trade shows, business meetings, etc. to Chicago. I wonder how the Tuskegee group feels about being considered 'fat cats' when they give rides to children. I wonder how Air Lifeline pilots feel about being called 'fat cats' whey they volunteer to fly medical patients for free. I wonder how the news media chopper pilots feel about being called 'fat cats' when the increased congestion at other airports makes their job more hazardous. I wonder how the law enforcement pilots feel about being called 'fat cats' when their job has been made more hazardous."

We need to pass the word about Meigs Field; a place of open space in a city that has had an explosion of high rises and a loss of personal space. It is, in itself, a park. It is where a person can go to look at the horizon, uncluttered by buildings or antennas. It is a place where one can watch the works of art we call airplanes arising into the sky, and can dream about the world, and adventure, because a runway is the door to the world. The Tuskegee Airmen and the EAA and the Friends of Meigs reminded us of that with their success in bringing inner city kids to Meigs to show them that there were wonderful alternatives to the crack house, the whores on the corners and the passed-out bums they saw as a part of their lives. Mayor Daley has taken that away. He has extinguished the glow in the eyes of those kids. An airport is a place for contemplation, for regeneration and renewal, for recreation by those of us who save up our money and rent airplanes so that we can see the world from aloft and experience the powerful and universal emotions generated by flight. It's up to us to express that to the world.

The Fight On Our Hands

For nearly two years we've been in the toughest fight in our aeronautical lives, first against a brand-new government agency that seemed bound and determined to make us safe even if it had to kill us, then from state legislatures that felt that some sort of repressive legislation against those "little airplanes" would allow them to be seen as doing something in the eyes of their constituents, and now, from a dictator who runs one of the bigger cities in the country. If pilots have felt they could stand by and let someone else do the fighting, Daley's terrorist attack put paid to that notion. The fight is upon is, and it's up to each of us to be more aggressive. This is the 100th anniversary of powered flight. Daley celebrated in his way; we have to celebrate it by spreading the truth. People who know that little planes are not evil and that the folks who fly those airplanes are responsible, caring, patriotic people are less likely to demonize pilots or be afraid of airplanes.

It is up to you to take the first step, to educate and expose people to flight. That means getting out and giving Young Eagles rides, speaking to community groups, and volunteering for the air ambulance groups that fly people to get medical treatment or for the environmental aviation groups such as LightHawk or SouthWings. Do it and let the media know about those volunteer efforts.

The second step is to recognize that there will always be closed minds and those with agendas of greed to benefit themselves. Those people will have to be fought. You will have to take on the Mayor Daley's of this country. That means writing coherent, thoughtful letters to the editor (not something that makes pilots look like halfwit cranks, so have a friend edit your draft letter), contributing heavily to AOPA and Friends of Meigs and groups working to keep airports open and the sky accessible to all. It may mean hours of rehearsing a speech and then forcing yourself to go to a public hearing and speaking out for what you believe.

It may mean that you are honor bound not to patronize Chicago or use an airline that hubs at O'Hare or Midway and let Da Mayor know. I have airline travel coming up, and I certainly don't need to change planes at O'Hare or Midway. I also ask President Bush, who promised each of us that he would root out terrorism wherever it was and bring terrorists to justice, to turn your U.S. District Attorney lose on the terrorist in the heartland.

Daley has dropped the gauntlet; it's time for us in aviation to pick it up and shove it up his nose. Write, donate, speak out, volunteer, but get off your duff and fight this evil.

See you next month.