Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Forrest Claypool heaped praise on each other Tuesday during an appearance before the City Club of Chicago.
The lovefest during Claypool’s scheduled address to the City Club was a dramatic departure from the CTA president’s appearance there last November, when he lowered the boom on Ventra’s contractor for nagging rollout problems with the CTA’s new fare payment system.
At that time, Claypool even called the president of Cubic Transportation Systems up to the podium to apologize for what one alderman had called a “debacle.”
But Tuesday those problems seemed light years away — and were not even mentioned.
Instead, Claypool wasn’t the tough guy but was on the receiving end of praise from Emanuel. The mayor introduced Claypool as “my dear friend” with whom he “started in politics 34 years ago,” when both men worked on the unsuccessful congressional campaign of Democrat David Robinson.
“I am very proud of the appointment of Forrest Claypool, who has done an incredible job of modernizing the CTA,” Emanuel told the City Club audience at Maggiano’s Banquets, 111 W. Grand.
For his part, Claypool praised Emanuel for being “one of the most transit-focused mayors Chicago has seen in decades.” He pointed to the mayor’s support of “the largest capital investment program in CTA history” — a $5 billion enterprise.
“Whereas previous administrations tended to focus on station rehabs along a particular rain line, or tackle just a handful of large-scale projects each year, the mayor has taken the unprecedented strategy of making major investments across the entire rail and bus system,” Claypool said.
Under Emanuel’s watch and Claypool’s stewardship, about one third of all CTA rail stations are being improved; track improvements permeate the system; cameras are “saturating” rail cars, buses and rail stations; and an “almost entirely new fleet” of buses and rail cars are planned, Claypool said.
When he walked in the door, Claypool said, he faced a $380 million deficit. Just last week, the CTA passed its fourth consecutive balanced budget — one that did not rely on capital funds to pay for operating costs and packed no fare increases.
Claypool said he agreed with a Chicago Tribune editorial declaring that the CTA had undergone a “turnaround.”
He also couldn’t dispute the view of Crain’s Chicago Business columnist Greg Hinz that the CTA is seeing a “renaissance” — all of it, Claypool said, “under the mayor’s leadership.”