Illinois legislator ‘doesn’t see brown’ on Metra’s board

Influential Chicago politician says railroad lacks Latino leadership and is a 'good old boys network'
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Luis Arroyo, Illinois state representative
Illinois General Assembly website
CHICAGO — A key Illinois legislator appeared before Metra’s board Wednesday to take credit for helping the agency receive about $1.6 billion in infrastructure funding, but also chided the agency’s lack of Latino leadership, calling it a “good old boys network” that needed to change.

Illinois state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, congratulated the agency for having “hit the lottery” by receiving a share of the $45 billion “Rebuild Illinois” state bond program that Arroyo, as chairman of the House Appropriations-Capital Committee, helped draw up and pass in June. But the Chicago Democrat pointedly added that he was disappointed that he didn’t see any “brown” faces on Metra’s board of directors.

“I don’t see no Latinos on this board. I don’t see no Latino women on this board,” said Arroyo, who was born in Puerto Rico, according to his biography. “With all due respect … this looks like a good old boys network to me. That needs to change.”

From 2013 to 2017, however, former federal judge Manuel Barbosa, of Mexican heritage, represented Kane County on Metra’s board. On Wednesday, a Metra spokesman said the agency had no comment on Arroyo’s statements.

Metra’s 11-member board is appointed by the six Northeastern Illinois county chairs, suburban Cook County members, and Chicago’s mayor. Currently, all are white males except for Metra’s vice chair, Romayne Brown, who is African-American. Brown was appointed by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Director Cory Thames, also African-American, was appointed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski introduced Arroyo as a “good friend and supporter of Metra.” Derwinski remarked that a $7.3-million renovation of Metra’s Healy Station, located in Arroyo’s Northwest Side district, is almost complete.

Arroyo cited Metra’s intensive campaign in Springfield this spring to secure funding for the agency’s capital needs, including new locomotives and coaches, and upgrades for bridges and stations.

“(If) you need help from us in the General Assembly and you see a Latino like me in front of your board, (then) you better make sure that somebody that looks like me is on that board. Because right now, there’s nobody that looks like me on that board,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo said the board of the CTA, which almost entirely serves the city, was “very diverse.” He said there were Latino “doctors, lawyers, and engineers” living in the suburbs served by Metra.

“Why am I not seeing somebody that looks like me on that board?” he asked, referring to the Metra board members in front of him. “Where’s the brown? Where’s the brown on that board? I don’t see it.”

Arroyo reiterated: “I help you, you need to help back. You need to have a diverse board.”

Arroyo’s daughter, Denise Arroyo-Feliciano, is a $95,600-a year program administrator in Metra’s emergency preparedness office, according to a Regional Transportation Authority database.

In 2013, former Metra CEO Alex Clifford alleged that Arroyo had asked him to hire the lawmaker's candidate for an open deputy director position during a meeting with Latino lawmakers. Clifford said he refused to take the name. Arroyo denied making recommendations or pressuring Clifford. Clifford was ousted by Metra’s board after making the allegations of political pressure.

In 2013, Arroyo appeared before Metra's board and asked that the Healy Station be renamed for Puerto Rican baseball Hall-of-Famer Roberto Clemente. No action was taken on Arroyo's request.

According to a 2017 analysis of U.S. Census data by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Hispanics make up 23 percent of the Northeastern Illinois region. Hispanic population growth has been ubiquitous throughout the region, with roughly half of the growth in Cook County and the other half spread among the remaining counties, the analysis noted.
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