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Rahm Emanuel picks Forrest Claypool to head CTA

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



With a pledge to hold the line on CTA fares, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday chose a proven reformer with no background in transportation to serve as CTA president: former Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool.

“I don’t believe it’s time — given how the middle-class feels that they’re nickel-and-dimed on taxes — to be raising rates at this time,” said Emanuel, who campaigned on a promise to extend the CTA’s Red Line on the South Side and rebuild it on the North Side.

“My first order of business is to see how operations are working to make sure we’re doing it in the most efficient and effective way. ...They have to go through the operations line by line … and find savings.”

At the CTA, Claypool will team with Board Chairman Terry Peterson, another Emanuel campaign loyalist who will be retained by the new mayor.

They’re part of a transportation triumvirate that also includes outsider Gabe Klein, who will serve as the city’s transportation commissioner. Klein caught Emanuel’s eye while pioneering car-sharing and bike-sharing programs while serving the same capacity in Washington D.C.

Like the past two CTA presidents Rich Rodriguez and Ron Huberman, Claypool has no background in transportation.

He is a longtime friend of the mayor-elect who built his reputation as a political reformer during a tumultuous five-year stint as Mayor Daley’s handpicked superintendent of the Chicago Park District.

“No prior experience in parks. None. But under his leadership, Chicago got recognized for being very innovative,” Emanuel said.

“That is what public service is about. It’s bringing innovation, creativity, a sense of commitment to what the mission is. And that is why I selected him.”

Claypool is taking over at a critical time.

The state still owes the CTA $82.5 million from the borrowing deal brokered by Gov. Quinn to avert fare hikes.

The freeze on fares expires Dec. 31. So do union contracts covering 9,000 CTA employees, who are expected to demand plenty after seeing 1,057 of their members laid off and having a healthy chunk of the 16 percent pay raise they got over the last five years swallowed up by increased pension and health care contributions.

The CTA managed to balance its budget, only after diverting $203 million in capital funds toward operating expenses over the last two years.

“The state is five months behind in terms of payment to the RTA, which then sends money to us. … The two-year agreement comes to an end this year. The $166 million that the governor borrowed goes away this year. … That’s one of the challenges we’re gonna have,” Peterson said.

The CTA chairman said service cuts are also a “last resort.” In 2010, CTA passengers were forced to endure an 18 percent cut in bus service and nine percent on the rail system. The CTA managed to survive the cuts with only a one percent reduction in ridership.

If Claypool’s CTA tenure is anything like his stint at the Park District, CTA unions could be in for a rough ride.

He presided over an unprecedented expansion of recreational programming and capital spending while holding the line on property taxes and cutting 800 jobs from a payroll of 4,100. Park District harbors and Soldier Field were turned over to private managers, more than doubling non-tax revenues.

The job cuts rankled aldermen and union leaders, but Claypool’s reputation as a reformer was solidified. It was further bolstered by two terms on the Cook County Board, an unsuccessful campaign for board president against John Stroger and a failed independent campaign for Cook County assessor against Cook County Democratic chairman Joe Berrios.

Asked Tuesday what concessions he would seek from CTA labor unions, Claypool said, “You don’t negotiate in public. … There’s obviously significant financial problems at CTA, but that’s part of the discussions and negotiations.”

Robert Kelly, president of Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Local 308 representing rail workers, acknowledged that Claypool has a “reputation and a history of slashing jobs.’’ But Kelly said Claypool will have a tough time doing the same at the CTA.

“You might be able to do it with management, but not with labor. We’re already at a skeleton crew,’’ Kelly said.

“If you want people waiting longer for buses and trains, then go ahead and cut jobs. That’s not gonna win a popularity contest. You’re looking at gasoline going to $5-a-gallon. This is a time when transit should be expanding — not cutting.’’



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