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Metra board pick mired in politics

Thursday, June 28, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

In a short but snippy meeting that included south suburban allies hurling accusations at each other, the Cook County Board's suburban caucus chose to defer its choice on one of three seats on the Metra board.

Support was split between Metra director Elonzo Hill, of Country Club Hills, and former Cook County Republican chairman Gary Skoien, of Palatine. Neither had a majority of votes.

Commissioners Deb Sims (D-Chicago) and Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) accused chairwoman Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-Orland Park) of trying to cut Democrats out of the process so she could retaliate against Hill. Gorman said Hill didn't back her choice for leader of the Metra board last year.

"To not appoint someone because they didn't do what the chair (Gorman) wanted sends a very poor message to any appointment we make," Murphy said. "It may be an abuse of power."

Gorman said she included everyone in the meeting but Hill would never have enough votes to win anyway.

Cook County's eight suburban commissioners get to pick three of the commuter rail agency's seven board members. Commissioners reappointed Orland Park Trustee James Dodge and Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder without debate.

During the brief meeting Wednesday, Gorman repeatedly cut off Sims and Murphy -- who she often works with on regional issues -- and silenced their attempts to set a deadline for a choice by ruling their motions out of order.

Gorman's defection from Republicans put Hill on the board four years ago, but Gorman wanted Hill to back Dodge for the Metra board chairmanship last year and he didn't.

Commissioners Gregg Goslin (R-Glenview) and Pete Silvestri (R-Elmwood Park) want Skoien in the seat because he's from their northwest suburban area.

Gorman, the current Cook County Republican chairwoman, says she doesn't actually care much for Skoien, who fought her in an intramural Republican party fight. She just wants Hill out.

The Democrats, even from the north suburbs, tout Hill as the best choice because the former CTA official has transit experience. But they especially don't want Skoien, who ruffled feathers in both parties in 2005 by announcing a $10,000 bounty for information that would incriminate Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

Gorman apparently had the votes lined up for Skoien, but Silvestri decided Wednesday he wouldn't support Skoien in an immediate vote after seeing the controversy he engendered.

"I thought at least it warranted a conversation, on whether there should be a west suburban representative," Silvestri said.

Hill will stay on the board until a replacement is chosen.

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