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Quinn pick for CTA board withdraws amid ‘political grandstanding’

Frank Zuccarelli

Frank Zuccarelli

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Updated: September 15, 2013 6:23AM

The south suburban Democratic power broker whose appointment by Gov. Pat Quinn to the Chicago Transit Authority board sparked controversy stepped down from the post Tuesday.

In a letter to Quinn, Thornton Township Supervisor Frank M. Zuccarelli alluded to calls for his ouster by Quinn gubernatorial rival William Daley.

“Given the events of recent weeks, I do not want political grandstanding to distract from the critical issues or stand in the way of what people in the south suburbs need,” wrote Zuccarelli, who also is Thornton Township Democratic committeeman.

“Therefore, it is with great regret that I ask you to withdraw my appointment to the CTA Board effective immediately,” he wrote.

In giving up the $25,000-a-year CTA post, Zuccarelli will continue to draw the $186,418 paycheck he receives from Thornton Township.

Last week, with a patronage scandal enveloping the region’s transit system, Daley pounded Quinn on the Zuccarelli appointment, calling the longtime suburban official a double-dipper because he already holds his supervisor post.

But in doing so, the brother of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley left himself vulnerable to questions about cronyism that went on during his brother’s more than two-decade reign as mayor. Mayor Daley’s former campaign manager Terry Peterson and former intergovernmental affairs director Victor Reyes, longtime chieftain of the Hispanic Democratic Organization at the center of the city hiring scandal, were both appointed to the CTA board by the former mayor.

Zuccarelli resigned in time to avoid attending Wednesday’s monthly CTA meeting.

Reacting to the resignation, William Daley delivered a blunt, two-sentence reply that, in its brevity, appeared designed not to add to the perception that he was engaging in any “political grandstanding” with his earlier call for Zuccarelli’s departure.

“Frank Zuccarelli had little choice but to do the honorable thing by resigning today,” Daley said. “It’s unfortunate that Gov. Quinn put him in this position in the first place.”

In accepting his resignation, Quinn thanked and praised Zuccarelli but did not allude to the double-dipping controversy that had plagued his appointment.

“As someone who grew up in the south suburbs, attended South Suburban College and went on to serve as an elected leader of Thornton Township, Frank is a strong representative of the Southland area,” Quinn said in a prepared statement.

“I felt he would have brought an important perspective to the CTA Board, which has all too often left this region behind when it came to important transportation access issues,” the governor said.

Meanwhile, the Federal Railroad Administration announced Tuesday it was stepping up its oversight of the beleaguered Metra rail system, with increased inspections of train operations and attendance at weekly meetings with the two executives now heading Metra in the wake of its CEO’s controversial severance package.

U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D.-Ill) asked the FRA to take extra steps to guard Metra’s safety after the departure of CEO Alex Clifford and the upheaval in board members that followed it.

Zucharelli’s resignation was the eighth to rumble through the region’s transit agencies in the wake of the outcry that greeted the $718,000 “separation agreement” for Clifford. Clifford resigned June 21, with only eight months left on his contract. At least one Metra Board member has contended that Clifford’s hefty 26-month payout amounted to mostly “hush money.”

Since then, four Metra Board members have resigned. Two of them — Metra Chairman Brad O’Halloran and Metra Board member Larry Huggins — left after Clifford made public his patronage and other allegations about them.

In addition, two RTA members have bowed out: Nabi Fakroddin, for serving on two governmental boards simultaneously, and Rev. Tyrone Crider, who faced questions about how he handled a state grant.

Zuccarelli would have replaced CTA board member John Bouman, who announced his resignation in July. His term was supposed to end in 2018, CTA officials said.

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