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Region would suffer under planned Metra political move

Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Daily Southtown

When it comes to the public transportation needs of the Southland, we need every voice we can enlist to make a case for us. For too long, we were treated like the unwanted stepchild, and we've had to fight hard for every transit improvement we thought necessary. And that still hasn't been enough. For example, Metra, the Chicago-area commuter rail agency, has a train line that runs to and from the Loop to Orland Park and beyond to Manhattan. But it offers no weekend service. Then there's the planned STAR commuter line that will provide rail service to outer-ring suburbs. The line will start in the north suburbs, proceed through the western suburbs and then stop at Joliet. Metra didn't think it was essential to extend the line east from Joliet through the far south suburbs.
With so much work to be done down here, it seems odd that one local influential powerbroker would want to have less Southland representation on the Metra board. But, indeed, that could be the case by the end of today. Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-Orland Park) has indicated she will recommend that the caucus that determines suburban representation on the Metra board remove board member Elonzo Hill, of Country Club Hills -- and replace him with Gary Skoien, of Palatine, a northwest suburb.
Gorman said she is taking the action because Hill did not support Orland Park Trustee James Dodge, a current board member, for the board presidency last year. Hill supported Carole Doris, of Downers Grove, who won the election. "He could not support someone in his own back yard," Gorman said of Hill.
But there's a flaw in Gorman's argument. She is looking beyond her back yard for Hill's replacement. If she wants Hill out because of the Dodge issue, we can understand the politics involved. But if Hill is replaced, he should be replaced by someone from the Southland. There are many capable individuals who could represent the area on the Metra board. Instead, a northwest suburbanite appears poised to get the seat in a move that is most political.
Gorman replaced Skoien as the Cook County Republican chairman earlier this year, after Skoien resigned. Before that, as the GOP continued to wither away in Cook County under Skoien's tutelage, Skoien made headlines with a hokey political stunt: He offered a $10,000 bounty for information leading to a conviction of Mayor Richard Daley. There is little that leads us to believe he will make an effective Metra board member -- let alone one who will put the interests of the Southland high on his agenda.
We backed Dodge for the board presidency and would have appreciated Hill's support. That aside, Hill has been a highly responsible board member whose knowledge of transportation issues and attentiveness to the needs of the Southland were admirable. Today, he likely will pay a political price, but Gorman's refusal to recommend another Southlander to replace him is inexcusable and insulting to her constituents.


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