Chicago Port Privatization Hits Union Opposition

The laker John Sherwin in layup at Illinois International Port (Boatnerd / Chuck Wagner)

By MarEx 2016-07-14 20:24:44

Local politicians and the International Longshoreman's Association are opposing a plan by the mayor of Chicago – Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff to President Obama – to privatize the Illinois International Port on Lake Michigan.

The port's board is holding a closed meeting on Friday to discuss plans for a private sector partnership for managing and leasing the facility. 

Alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza told the Chicago Tribune that the city would be better served if it retained control of the port and made needed investments on its own.

Outside analysts suggest that unless an investment partner is found, the port will not be able to reach its full potential as a driver of economic development. The port has not turned a profit in recent years and faces stiff competition from other nearby facilities; Emanuel promises that privatizing and revitalizing the facility could create 1,000 jobs and bring $500 million in private investment. 

The mayor has been looking to reform the port since early 2012, when he appointed a trusted associate to run the Illinois International Port District, a little-known government agency with authority over the facility and its associated operations.

Under its new management, the port sought a privatization deal in 2013, but it fell through a few days before an auditor's investigation published details of a history of poor oversight at the port, including no-bid contracts and inaccurate record-keeping. (The problems were from before Emanuel's time as mayor.)

The mayor has had similar setbacks in trying to privatize other Chicago public assets, including a lease at Midway Airport.  

The port authority's holdings include Iroquois Landing Lakefront Terminus, a 100-acre terminal with 3,000 linear feet of berthing space; Senator Dan Dougherty Harbor, with two giant grain terminals, 3,000 linear feet of berthing space and 400,000 square feet of covered transit sheds; and a tank farm totaling 800,000 liquid barrels. The port also owns a golf course, privately operated under contract.