Updated 04/19/11 – 6:05 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A day after naming a new team to run the city’s public schools, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday that he’s tapping former Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool to run the CTA.
He will take over for Rich Rodriguez, who has been CTA President since 2009. Emanuel said the move is not a sleight against Rodriguez. The mayor-elect said he’s asked Rodriguez if he’d be willing to join the Emanuel administration in another capacity.
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Claypool served on the Cook County Board from 2002 until 2010 and was a prominent member of a group of reformers on the board who frequently clashed with former Board President John H. Stroger Jr. and, later, his son, Board President Todd Stroger.
Claypool ran for Board President against the elder Stroger in 2006, but lost in the Democratic primary, even though Stroger suffered a massive stroke just before the election. The elder Stroger died in 2008.
Claypool decided not to run for re-election in 2010 after two terms on the board. Initially, he said he planned to join the private sector, but he later made a failed independent run for Cook County Assessor.
Earlier in his political career, Claypool twice served as Mayor Richard M. Daley’s chief of staff and also was superintendent of the Chicago Park District for several years under Daley.
As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, like teachers union representatives did after Emanuel announced his leadership team for the Chicago Public Schools, transit union leaders expressed concern about the mayor-elect’s pick to run the CTA.
“You’re bringing in a person who doesn’t have a transportation history. I don’t know what team he’s going to bring in with him. Are they going to have a history?” said Robert Kelly, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308.
Emanuel responded that Claypool’s skills as a manager and priorities for public transit trumped his lack of experience in transportation.
“It’s bringing innovation, creativity, a sense of commitment to what the mission is, and that is why I selected him,” Emanuel said.
Union officials said Claypool is taking over a transit system where morale is at an all-time low thanks to service cuts and layoffs in recent years, even though those workers have come through when it counted.
Kelly praised transit workers for their hard work this winter during that massive blizzard in February.
“When those people were stranded on Lake Shore Drive, those busses were there keeping them warm,” Kelly said. “The thing is, all our people had to get to work to move those people, and we did. We just want the respect that’s due.”
Emanuel also said Tuesday that current CTA Board Chairman Terry Peterson will stay on board. He also named Washington, D.C., transportation director and former Zipcar executive Gabe Klein as his head of the Chicago Department of Transportation.
While running the D.C. transportation department, Klein installed several electric car charging stations, set up a bike sharing program, and expanded bike lanes. Emanuel has said he wants to install 100 miles of new bike lanes in Chicago.
As to whether impending contract talks and continued budget problems would lead to CTA fare hikes, Emanuel said, “I don’t believe its time, given how the middle class feels their nickeled and dimed on taxes, to be raising rates at this time.”
But Kelly said fare hikes could be inevitable.
“I’m not opposed to a fare increase. I, quite frankly, think that it’s probably needed at this point in time,” Kelly said. “People want a service and if you give them a good service, they’ll ride these trains and buses. Who wants to pay $5 a gallon for gas?”
Emanuel made it clear he had plans for outgoing CTA President Richard Rodriguez as well, perhaps in another high profile post yet to be announced.
He promised to have a team in place by the takes office on May 16th and he’s wasting no time and pulled no punches in working toward that goal.