O'HARE — Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) Monday publicly asked Mayor Rahm Emanuel to appoint him to the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, saying he was the best person to represent residents whose homes have been blanketed by the noise of planes using east-west runways at O'Hare Airport.
Napolitano said Emanuel should dismiss Catherine Dunlap, who has represented the 41st Ward on the commission since 2011 and who began attending the commission's meetings as a resident in 2007.
Dunlap, who is the chairwoman of the commission's technical committee as well as a member of a special committee examining nighttime use of the airport's runways, said she was proud of her work as a member of the commission and wanted to continue to serve in the unpaid position.
While praising Dunlap's "wealth of knowledge," Napolitano said he believed it was time for a change on the commission.
"We need to hit it a little bit harder and be more vocal" about the need to reduce jet noise and air pollution over homes in Norwood Park, Edison Park, Edgebrook and O'Hare, Napolitano said, noting that he "inherited" Dunlap when he defeated Ald. Mary O'Connor in last year's election.
Dunlap, of Norwood Park, said her goal was also to achieve noise relief for Far Northwest Side residents, by working to revise the rules that govern airport operations.
"It may seem like inside baseball to some people, but that's how you change the policy," Dunlap said. "Waving your hands and screaming doesn't amount to much."
In October 2013, a new east-west runway opened as part of the $8.7 billion O'Hare Modernization Program, sending hundreds of flights over areas of the Northwest Side like North Park, Jefferson Park Edgebrook, Edison Park and Norwood Park that previously heard little or no jet noise in previous years.
That incensed many residents, who have inundated both elected officials and the city's official complaint hotline with tens of thousands of complaints.
The number of complaints from 41st Ward residents rose 32 percent from September to November, according to the commission.
The mayor is responsible for appointing the six members of the commission that represent the 36th, 38th, 39th, 40th, 41st and 45th wards, usually with the recommendation of the alderman.
Two other members of the commission represent the city as a whole, and Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans, who is also appointed by the mayor, also sits on the panel.
Ald. John Arena (45th) is the only alderman to represent his ward on the commission. The other wards are represented by mayoral appointees, officials said.
Napolitano said he first asked Emanuel Dec. 21 to replace Dunlap and appoint him, hoping to start 2016 fresh.
But the alderman said he has gotten no response from the mayor's office.
Representatives of the mayor did not respond to a request for comment Monday from DNAinfo Chicago.
The commission held its first meeting of the year Friday, and Napolitano said he was denied a seat at the U-shaped table with other commission members at a suburban banquet hall.
"I was told I was no longer welcome to sit there," Napolitano said, noting that it came after his request to the mayor's office. "The timing is interesting."
Commission Executive Director Jeanette Camacho said aldermen were previously allowed to sit at the commission's table and issued nameplates as a "professional courtesy." But that practice caused "confusion" and raised concerns that votes were being cast by people other than the wards' official designees, Camacho said.
"We simply need to protect the integrity of the voting process," Camacho said.
Napolitano called the change "ridiculous" and "disheartening."
While noting that she had "respect for Napolitano's position as the alderman," Dunlap said she did not think he would be able to devote as much time to the commission as she does.
"I take my responsibility very seriously," Dunlap said, adding that she pushed federal officials to give the public more input on whether the environmental study of the airport expansion should be redone as well as to send a representative to the technical committee meetings. "It is a huge commitment."
In addition, Dunlap said her position on the commission's leadership team benefited the ward's residents by giving her the power to shape policy.
"I'm going to ignore the politics and just focus on the policy," Dunlap said.
Napolitano, the only member of the Chicago City Council elected with the support of the Chicago Republican Party, has been at loggerheads with Emanuel on a number of issues in recent months.
In October, Napolitano accused Emanuel of "dangling" the promise of a new annex to relieve severe overcrowding at Ebinger Elementary School in Edison Park in an attempt to convince him to vote for the mayor's 2016 budget, which included the largest property tax hike in modern Chicago history.
Napolitano voted no.
Last week, Napolitano said he believed a city zoning board's vote to approve a medical marijuana dispensary in in the ward was motivated by the desire of officials loyal to the mayor to punish Napolitano for voting against the budget.
"People are becoming increasingly angry that this is the way their city is being run," Napolitano said. "I think it will motivate them to get involved, and to reconsider how they vote come election time."
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