"We did it for public safety," says Mayor Richard M. Daley, whose action has been called "one of the boldest moves in the mayor's career." No public notice had been given.

Nine days earlier, The Federal Aviation Administration and the Dept. of Homeland Security had implemented a temporary flight restriction banning planes from flying over the city's downtown area. Daley and city emergency management officials claim that private aircraft flying to and from Meigs Field, although just outside the downtown perimeter, were still posing a security threat to nearby buildings. "We are not going to allow an airport to operate for a few people at the expense of a larger number of people," says Cortez Trotter, the Chicago's emergency response chief.

City aviation officials decline to say which local contracting firm had been retained to perform the demolition, which reportedly cost roughly $175,000. But a spokeswoman with the city's procurement services department says the office is not aware of any specific contracts used for the runway work. Rather, she says the job was most likely an extension of an existing aviation maintenance contract held with the city.

Local opposition groups believe the runway's demolition is the beginning of a new civil engineering project to further improve public lakefront property. "It's a complete smokescreen. Daley's been trying to close Meigs Field for years to turn it into a park," says Steve Whitney, board member of Friends of Meigs Field.

"Yes, I do want a park at Meigs Field," says Daley, confirming his support for such a plan but not commenting further.

he City of Chicago and Chicago Park District closed downtown commuter airport Meigs Field March 30 in an overnight operation, citing homeland security as the main motivation for the swift action. Demolition equipment operated by a local general contractor rolled into the 55-year-old airfield shortly before midnight and began tearing up its 3,899-ft-long runway with a series of large "X" gouges in the asphalt, preventing small planes from taking off or landing.