Chicago City Council Ratchets Up Pressure on Johnson Over Transit Issues

Left: Mayor Brandon Johnson speaks at a news conference Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Right: CTA President Dorval Carter speaks at a Chicago City Council meeting Feb. 27, 2024. (WTTW News)Left: Mayor Brandon Johnson speaks at a news conference Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Right: CTA President Dorval Carter speaks at a Chicago City Council meeting Feb. 27, 2024. (WTTW News)

The Chicago City Council this week ratcheted up the pressure facing Mayor Brandon Johnson to switch tracks and confront the crisis facing public transportation by blocking the confirmation of his first pick to serve on the Regional Transportation Authority board and publicly calling for the leader of the Chicago Transit Authority to resign.

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Allies of the mayor used a parliamentary maneuver Wednesday to prevent a vote on the nomination of the Rev. Ira Acree to serve on the board of the Regional Transportation Authority, an acknowledgment they did not have the votes to confirm the politically connected pastor of the Greater St. John Baptist Church on the West Side.

But the mayor and his allies could not stop 29 alderpeople from signing on to a measure authored by Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) calling for CTA President Dorval Carter to resign from the position he has held for nine years under three mayors.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward), the mayor’s hand-picked chair of the Budget Committee, used a different part of the City Council’s rules to prevent that non-binding resolution from advancing to a committee hearing and vote.

Despite the fact a majority of alderpeople signed on to the call for Carter to step down, the resolution is now mired in the Rules Committee, where controversial ordinances often languish for months before dying a slow, unremarkable death.

Read More: CTA Touts Report Showing Transit’s Key Role in Chicago Region – But Agency President Quiet on Proposal to Merge CTA, Metra and Pace

Johnson has declined to publicly weigh in on Carter’s future, repeatedly telling reporters he does not comment on personnel matters.

Carter, who earns $376,000 annually, reports to the seven-member Chicago Transit Board. Four board members are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council, while three are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the mayor and the Illinois Senate.

Since taking office, Johnson has appointed, and the City Council has confirmed, two CTA board members: Roberto Requejo and Michael Eaddy.

While Requejo has a degree in urban planning and led Elevate Chicago, which works to make Chicago’s public transportation system more robust, Eaddy has no transit background. He is the pastor of People’s Church of the Harvest Church of God in Christ on the West Side.

Acree’s nomination stalled after he faced unusually pointed questions from alderpeople during his confirmation hearing, a sign that alderpeople are also facing increasing pressure to make significant changes to the CTA, which has yet to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The system, which saw its ridership plummet during the pandemic as crime and violence increased, is facing a $730 million deficit in early 2026 once federal relief expires.

Acree repeatedly struggled to articulate exactly what changes he would make if confirmed to the RTA board to serve a five-year term, declining to answer questions about Johnson’s specific transit agenda and how Acree would implement it as a member of the 16-person board charged with financial oversight. Board members earn $25,000 annually and meet once per month.

In addition, Acree could not answer questions about how he would address that massive budget gap, which has sparked proposals to merge the Chicago area’s three separate public transit agencies — the CTA, suburban bus system Pace and commuter rail system Metra — into a single agency. He also said he was unaware of the massive budget gap facing the system.

Johnson told reporters after Wednesday’s City Council meeting that he stood behind Acree’s nomination. The City Council has only rarely rejected mayoral picks for plum positions like the RTA board.

Johnson said he would continue to nominate people who are “closest to the neighborhoods that rely on public accommodations” and “most connected to the pain” Chicagoans feel.

The delay will give alderpeople additional time to consider Acree’s qualifications, Johnson said.

A civil rights leader, Acree was a thorn in the side of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, leading efforts to reform the Chicago Police Department after a White Chicago police officer murdered Laquan McDonald, a Black teen, in 2014.

A longtime advocate for efforts to reduce gun violence, Acree delivered the benediction at the January 2023 inauguration of Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

After Johnson’s election as Chicago mayor, Acree unsuccessfully applied to replace him on the Cook County Board of Commissioners. That position is now held by Commissioner Tara Stamps, who won the Democratic primary in March to serve out the remaining two years of Johnson’s term.

Acree is also a close ally of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who attended Wednesday’s hearing in a very public show of support.

Acree’s nomination and the fight over Carter’s future exposed tension between two critical parts of Johnson’s political base: progressive Chicagoans who have championed public transportation as a critical function of city government and Black Chicagoans who wish to see longtime leaders elevated to positions of power.

Ervin’s move to derail consideration of the resolution calling for Carter’s resignation was joined by Ald. Anthony Beale, who represents the city’s 9th Ward on the Far South Side.

Carter, who worked in the U.S. Department of Transportation during the Obama administration, has secured initial approval of more than $2 billion in federal funds for the extension of the CTA Red Line south to 130th Street through Beale’s ward.

With construction set to start next year, the CTA is on the verge on fulfilling a promise first made by former Mayor Richard J. Daley in the 1950s to connect the Far South Side to the rest of the city.

Beale has repeatedly said the city should not do anything to threaten the completion of that effort.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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