Mayor Johnson’s Pick for RTA Board Withdraws From Consideration After Aldermanic Pushback

The Rev. Ira Acree holds a news conference to withdraw his nomination to the RTA board on Friday, May 24, 2024. (WTTW News)The Rev. Ira Acree holds a news conference to withdraw his nomination to the RTA board on Friday, May 24, 2024. (WTTW News)

A politically connected pastor whose nomination to the Regional Transportation Authority board stalled out following a difficult confirmation hearing earlier this month has withdrawn his name from consideration for the post.

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The Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of the Greater St. John Baptist Church on the West Side who was selected by Mayor Brandon Johnson to serve on the board, announced Friday he is no longer seeking that seat due to aldermanic resistance that began after he faced pointed questions during his confirmation hearing earlier this month.

“There are forces that have opposed my nomination from the moment the mayor submitted my name,” Acree said during a Friday news conference. “And some of our so-called allies, they’re more interested in fighting me than supporting the wonderful people of our city.”

Acree’s nomination stalled after he faced unusually pointed questions from alderpeople during his May 8 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.

Allies of the mayor used a parliamentary maneuver during Wednesday’s City Council meeting to prevent a vote Acree’s nomination, an acknowledgment they did not have the votes to confirm him.

Acree on Friday criticized Alds. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) and Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) — the only members of the city’s Transportation and Public Way Committee to vote against Acree’s nomination during his nomination hearing — calling their accusations that he was unqualified for the position “foolish.”

Acree said he would have brought a “unique viewpoint” to the board and thanked Johnson for “having faith” in him, saying he was “humbled by the confidence and respect he has shown.”

“It is unfortunate that the opponents of African American empowerment have struck again,” Acree said, “attempting to deny persons like me the chance to fight for the men, women and children who ride the transit system every day.”

During his confirmation hearing, Acree told alderpeople he had driven to City Hall that day, before adding that he relied on the CTA as a teen and now uses it to get to the Loop to avoid paying for parking.

“I don’t have to use CTA,” Acree said. “I’m fortunate to have a car. But I use CTA often when I come downtown, because even though I am a working pastor, these parking tickets are super high.”

Acree said that if confirmed, he would use his seat on the RTA board as an extension of his work as a civil rights leader.

“Instead of holding protests, I’ll be on the inside and be very instrumental in making changes,” the pastor said.

Johnson on Friday said he did not ask Acree to withdraw his name from consideration and that the people he’s nominated for various positions are “connected to what I call the soul of Chicago.”

“And we’re gonna continue to seek out people who want to serve this city,” Johnson said.

Heather Cherone contributed to this report.

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson | [email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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