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Preckwinkle won't have Metra pick this week--but black expected to get nod

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says she won’t have her pick for the Metra Board in time for approval at this Wednesday’s Cook County Board meeting, but she intends to select an African American from the south suburbs for the slot.

Preckwinkle’s comments come less than a day after Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he was tapping former 43rd Ward Ald. Martin Oberman, a white, to replace Larry Huggins, a black who resigned from the Metra Board under pressure.

Both Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said Emanuel’s move put additional pressure on Preckwinkle to select an African American to the Metra Board to replace Stanley Rakestraw, the African American Preckwinkle urged to resign. The aldermen said diversity is critical on a board that would otherwise be all-white, yet oversees train service in heavily African American South Side and south suburban communities.

Five of 11 Metra Board members have resigned in the tumult following the board’s decision to award ex-CEO Alex Clifford up to $871,000 over 26 months to exit his contract eight months early and keep mum about it–except to investigating agencies. Clifford later went public with charges that Huggins and former Metra Chair Brad O’Halloran conspired to oust him because he would not “play ball” on patronage and contracts. O’Halloran, who also has since resigned, called the allegations “a whole lot of hooey.”

Preckwinkle spokeswoman Kristen Mack told the Chicago Sun-Times the following Monday by email:

“The county has maintained an accelerated timeline to consider candidates to the Metra board. We are still vetting candidates and are not in a position to introduce a nominee in time for Wednesday’s Cook County Board meeting.

“President Preckwinkle has cast a wide net and has received recommendations from a variety of sources, including applications submitted online. We are grateful to those who have expressed an interest and intend to communicate directly with them. Our ultimate goal is to have a deliberative process to identify a qualified candidate to serve on the Metra board.“President Preckwinkle wants to ensure that a diversity of perspectives are represented on the Metra board. She intends to appoint an African-American from the south suburbs.

“We will continue to work diligently to name an appointee as soon as possible.”