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Candidates make their pitches to join Metra’s board

Metrriders will pay higher fares starting February.  |  File photo

Metra riders will pay higher fares starting in February. | File photo

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Updated: November 3, 2013 6:27AM

It was a tough year for the Metra board.

Many of its members bailed.

But Cook County commissioners heard Tuesday from several candidates who want to join — and take the place of former Chairman Brad O’Halloran and outgoing director William Widmer.

“This is not any seat belonging to any individual,” said Robert Porada, an attorney from Des Plaines seeking Widmer’s chair. “It is the people’s seat.”

In an April 3 memo, former CEO Alex Clifford charged O’Halloran and another board member conspired to oust him because he would not play ball on patronage and contract requests. That set the stage for a whistle-blower suit, so the board instead granted Clifford an up to 26-month, $871,000 buyout.

Some board members were forced to resign in the scandal’s wake.

On Tuesday, about 20 candidates ranged from engineers to architects to accountants to the mayor of Lemont. Commissioner Jeffrey R. Tobolski asked them about their political contributions, and whether they hold any elected or appointed office for which they’re paid.

Brian Reaves, Lemont’s mayor, answered yes. “I would be willing to forego that,” he said.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin also asked Paul Oppenheim, a former director of schedules and service at Metra, about his relationship with late Metra chief Phil Pagano, who threw himself in front of a Metra train in 2010 amid an emerging scandal of his own. Oppenheim said he worked with Pagano occasionally.

“I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but he’s the reason I retired,” Oppenheim said.

The committee replacing Widmer could vote Wednesday morning.


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