December 18, 2014
Former independent alderman and longtime reformer Martin Oberman is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s pick to replace Larry Huggins as a Metra Board member, even though Oberman concedes he is an infrequent Metra rider.
“I’m not there as a person who rides Metra every day,’’ Oberman, 68, told the Chicago Sun-Times on Sunday. “I’m a bicylist.’’
The Lincoln Park resident said his decades of work as a government reformer and his budget-reading prowess — honed during 12 years as 43rd Ward alderman — are important skills to bring to a board under attack since its hefty June 21 buyout of ex-CEO Alex Clifford.
In a news release announcing the selection, Emanuel said, “The Metra board needs a new chapter and a new start.’’
The mayor lauded Oberman as “a leader for reform and accountability in government” whose “unique talents will best serve the transportation priorities of Chicago.’’
By turning to Oberman, Emanuel will be replacing an African-American Metra board member with a white one. Oberman noted that he was one of only five white aldermen who supported the city’s first black mayor, Harold Washington.
“I don’t think anyone would question my committment to the African-American community and to fairness,’’ said Oberman, an attorney whose selection must be approved by the City Council.
Emanuel’s last Metra pick, Huggins, came under fire in an April 3 email, in which Clifford accused Huggins of pressuring him about Metra contracts for African Americans.
Huggins resigned at Emanuel’s urging on Aug. 2. He was among five Metra board members to step down in the tumult following the board’s decision to award Clifford up to $871,000 over 26 months to bail out of his contract eight months early.
Ald. Howard Brookins Jr., whose 21st Ward includes two Metra stations, said Oberman’s selection puts pressure on Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle to tap an African American to replace Stanley Rakestraw, the only other black Metra board member at the time of Clifford’s departure. Rakestraw also has since resigned under pressure.
“I think that it will be a significant issue if there were no African Americans on the board,’’ Brookins said. “To have a public transportation system without an African American on it will be problematic.’’
As someone who lives in Lincoln Park and works downtown, Oberman said he uses Metra mostly to get to Ravinia in Highland Park. But he said he will use it more often if he joins the board.
As first General Counsel for the Illinois Racing Board in the 1970s, Oberman investigated corrupt racing interests. From 1975 to 1987, he was known as a voice of independence in the City Council and opponent of Machine regulars during Council Wars.
Oberman also served as chairman of the Mayoral Commission on Labor and Management under Mayor Jane Byrne; as chairman of the Shoreline Protection Commission under Mayor Washington, and, more recently, as a member of Emanuel’s Midway Airport Advisory Council.