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Firm with clout holds on to O’Hare people mover contract

Sun-Times Library

Sun-Times Library

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Updated: February 7, 2012 8:29AM

A clout-heavy contractor with two generations of ties to the Daley family has been awarded a $115 million no-bid contract to operate and maintain the O’Hare Airport people mover system, continuing a nearly two decade-long stranglehold.

AOR Transit is the partnership forged during the early 1990’s between construction magnate Patrick Harbour and developer Raymond Chin.

The new five-year contract was based purely on qualifications, said Aviation Department spokeswoman Tammy Chase, noting there was “no pricing requested.” The city’s “request for qualifications” drew only one other respondent: SNC-Lavalin Constructors, Inc.

Harbour Construction and R.M. Chin & Associates each own 42 percent of AOR Transit. The remaining 16 percent is owned by Riteway Huggins Construction Services owned by black contractor Larry Huggins.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has talked repeatedly about spreading the wealth and opening the gravy train of O’Hare contracts to real competition, but the people mover contract does just the opposite.

AOR Transit has managed the system since 1994 and has been paid $161 million since 2001 alone.

The $137.8 million people mover opened in 1993 to ease roadway congestion at O’Hare with a capacity of 2,400 passengers-an-hour.

The system currently includes five stations and 2.7 miles of double guideway connecting O’Hare terminals and remote parking facilities. The city is exploring the possibility of extending it to a new rental car campus with a five-level parking garage.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in 1998 that Harbour, whose father built overpasses over the Dan Ryan Expy. for former Mayor Richard J. Daley, had rescued the troubled international terminal project for Richard M. Daley and parlayed it into $118 million in airport contracts, many of them no-bid.

Harbour was also a friend and business partner of perennial city trucking contractor Michael Tadin and former Ald. Patrick Huels (11th), Daley’s floor leader.

A $1.25 million loan from Tadin to a Huels-owned security firm forced Huels’ 1997 resignation. The following year, Harbour’s political contributions to Huels were subpoenaed by a federal grand jury. The subpoena also demanded documents pertaining to the work performed for Naperville-based Harbour Contractors by Huels’-owned SDI Security. Chin received a similar subpoena.

In the wake of Huels’ resignation, Daley was so concerned about the Tadin-Harbour connection that he hired an accounting firm to audit AOR. Daley also asked then-Aviation Commissioner Mary Rose Loney to launch an open competition for no-bid airport deals.

Despite a 1999 contract that was supposed to cut his share of airport work in half, Harbour retained his crown as O’Hare construction czar. Loney resigned, ending a bitter, behind-the-scenes power struggle with Harbour.

Harbour could not be reached for comment on the new people mover contract.

During a 1998 interview with the Sun-Times, he bragged about turning a crisis into an opportunity at O’Hare — by stemming $200 million in cost overruns on the $598 million international terminal that had piled up under a previous construction manager and about forming AOR to fill the void after O’Hare Associates disbanded.

“When you find people who do a good job, don’t they deserve to be rewarded? I don’t think reward is the correct word. We earned it,” he said then.

“We took over, capped the program, brought it in under the revised budget and we’ve been there ever since.”

Harbour, his companies and employees have been prolific campaign donors in recent years, contributing: $1,500 to Emanuel; $10,000 to the now-defunct, Daley-controlled Hispanic Democratic Organization; $12,250 to campaign committees controlled by Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee; $5,061 to Burke’s wife, state Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, and thousands more to a handful of other aldermen.

Chin backed mayoral challenger Gery Chico. He has also contributed: $24,000 to Burke; $16,000 to the 25th Ward Regular Democratic Organization controlled by Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis (25th) and $3,500 to Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th). Huggins has contributed thousands to black aldermen, Daley, Edward and Anne Burke.

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