If you read the political tea leaves correctly, it certainly seems like almost former State Senator and GOP gubernatorial challenger Kirk Dillard will become our next Metra Chairman.
Although, as is often the case, the mere fact he sought out that impossible endeavor should be enough to automatically disqualify him from contention. Considering Metra’s eternal foibles, the only gig that could possibly be worse is the governorship.
Having dodged that bullet, you’d think he’d be content to serve out his Senate time in blissful peace. Talk about your masochistic tendencies. So now I’m starting to think Kirk would greatly benefit from the services of a reputable licensed therapist. Well, either that or he needs to start doing some serious drinking.
But I digress.
Despite Bruce Rauner’s best Snidely Whiplash impersonation, with chief opponent and former DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom pulling up his chairmanship campaign tent stakes, it looks like Dillard has the required 11 of 15 board votes to move forward.
Though I’m not sure “forward” is the appropriate term here. Applying the briefest of summaries, in just the last four years Metra has had to endure:
1. A board so incompetent and lazy that a former director managed to make off with a half a million dollars. Then they all refused to resign.
2. When the agency finally did catch up with that theft, the Director killed himself by jumping in front of one of his own trains.
3. They hired a new Director who discovered they were robbing the capital funds to pay operating expenses which is not the best business model. Then after having heavily recruiting him, the board forced the new Director out.
4. A set of winter service woes so severe that Chicagoans actually forgot about all the murders for a little while. Perhaps Metra management thought climate change was a little further along than the rest of us did.
5. Union maintenance workers who’ve turned loafing into an art form. Should you wish to observe this phenomenon, I would encourage you to drive along the tracks from Geneva to LaFox where they once put lawn chairs out at the Post Office and simply sat there in the sun.
Should Dillard get the expected nod, he said he’ll step down from the General Assembly which means taking a 66 percent pay cut. And we’re right back to the whole therapist thing.
But the Senator’s questionable vocational judgment may well be our gain because approximately 400,000 commuters rely on Metra’s good graces every day and if anyone can restore the agency to some semblance of stability, it’s Kirk.
We all love to bitch about “career politicians,” but that’s exactly what it gonna take to get Metra back on track. Only someone who knows and understands the players can keep the often contentious city/collar county board member kerfuffles from getting out of hand.
Not only that, but overly meddlesome folks like Mike Madigan can’t resist sticking their fingers in the Kool-Aid and it takes a certain Zen quality to be able to disappoint those people without igniting an Illinois political jihad.
Then there’s Metra management whom, despite a track record that makes Dick Cheney look competent, doesn’t feel the need to heed the board’s “advice.” Given that government cannot be run like a business, a certain brand of forthright subtlety will be required to get anything done.
In addition, Dillard has served on the Senate Transportation Committee and, having consistently borne witness to exactly how it shouldn’t be done, perhaps he understands the need for a sense of budget sanity more than most.
So if anyone’s up to this penultimate challenge, it’s gotta be the almost former Senator from DuPage County. At least there’s one thing working in his favor, the agency has nowhere to go but up.