Emanuel pushes Larry Huggins off Metra Board
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org August 2, 2013 4:08PM
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Updated: September 4, 2013 6:12AM
After dodging the issue for weeks, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday forced the resignation of Larry Huggins, Chicago’s only appointee on the scandal-scarred Metra Board.
Huggins is the fourth member of the suburban rail agency board to step down since a patronage scandal and $718,000 severance deal thrust it into the headlines.
Last month, Emanuel deflected blame to the RTA board when asked whether he still has confidence in Huggins.
The mayor did the same earlier this week when questioned about his faith in Huggins. In fact, Emanuel said he has not even bothered to talk to Huggins about his role in the Metra patronage scandal.
On Friday, the mayor changed his tune, one day after the resignation of Metra Board Chairman Brad O’Halloran.
Emanuel forced Huggins’ resignation after a conversation with the city’s representative.
“I spoke with Larry today, and we both agreed that he will step down from the Metra board. Larry has a lifetime of service to our city and its neighborhoods. His decision to leave the Metra board demonstrates his commitment and will allow the agency to begin a new chapter,” the mayor was quoted as saying in a statement released by his office.
The mayor’s office also released a canned quote from Huggins that said, “I would like to thank Mayor Emanuel for the opportunity to serve Chicago and its residents. I care deeply about this city and in recent days, it has become clear that it is time for me to step aside and allow Metra to move on.”
Huggins is the owner and president of Riteway-Huggins Construction Services. He could not be reached for comment on his resignation.
During an RTA hearing last month on ousted Metra CEO Alex Clifford’s $718,000 severance deal, Clifford accused his dead predecessor Phil Pagano of steering a no-bid contract to a firm owned by a Huggins business partner.
Clifford said that during his tenure as CEO, he’d learned that Huggins’ business partner — Joe Williams — had somehow won a non-competitive, $200,000 Metra contract connected to Englewood’s Flyover bridge project.
He said Williams’ company, Target Group, was paid to certify African-American contractors to work on the multimillion-dollar bridge project, but that it ultimately failed in its efforts. He said he later forwarded to state investigators his concerns about how the contract was awarded.
When it was Huggins’ turn to speak, he pointed out that while he has business dealings with Williams, he’s not involved with Target Group, and that it was Pagano who reached out to Target.
“It was a decision that Larry Huggins had nothing to do with,” Huggins said.
Williams has said he had “voluminous documentation” of his company’s work. He said it didn’t fail, but Metra’s two-year delay in bidding the contract made its work irrelevant.
Last month, the Better Government Association reported in the Chicago Sun-Times that Huggins hosted a Wrigley Field fund-raiser in early May for County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
At the event, Preckwinkle got a $1,000 donation from Metra Deputy Executive Director Alex Wiggins, who is regarded as the preferred choice to replace Clifford.
The BGA reported that Wiggins’ contribution was notable because of its timing and also because Clifford, in his April memo to Metra Board members, claimed Huggins and O’Halloran not only wanted Clifford gone, they also wanted Wiggins to replace him.
Clifford also has accused Huggins of pressuring him to award more Metra contracts to African-American firms. And Clifford indicated that Huggins and O’Halloran wanted him out because he resisted patronage requests from Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and other politicians.
Wiggins said his contribution had nothing to do with Clifford or pursuing the CEO job. He maintained that no Metra Board members have talked with him about replacing Clifford.
While Preckwinkle doesn’t have a direct role in the selection of Clifford’s replacement, the BGA noted she may have some influence given her appointment of Stanley Rakestraw and her political ties to Huggins and O’Halloran. Preckwinkle has collected $2,000 in donations from O’Halloran since 2010, more than $11,000 from Rakestraw since 2008 and about $30,000 from Huggins dating back to 1999, according to campaign finance records.
Huggins and O’Halloran told the BGA they hadn’t talked with Preckwinkle or anyone else about who should be Metra’s next CEO.
Earlier this week, Emanuel sloughed off repeated questions about Huggins’ role in the Metra patronage scandal.
“I have not had a conversation with Larry [Huggins]. Second of all, the state IG, as mandated, is looking into all matters of Metra. He’s one person out of 11,” the mayor said of Huggins.
“As I said last week and I will repeat: You have a [Metra] Board and then, you have RTA. I’d like to know where both the board and the RTA as a whole have been.”
In addition to Huggins and O’Halloran, two other board members have already stepped down — Paul Darley, who represented DuPage County, and Mike McCoy, who represented Kane County.