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Claypool dodges questions about leaving CTA to serve as Emanuel’s chief of staff

Chicago Transit Authority president Forrest Claypool dodged questions Monday about becoming Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s second-term chief of staff as two of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s appointees took their seats on the CTA board.

Speculation has centered on Claypool since mayoral chief of staff Lisa Schrader declared her intention to get off City Hall’s hottest seat.

A CTA spokesman said Claypool had a meeting scheduled at City Hall on Monday, but he did not know the topic.

Later, Claypool was cagey when asked whether he would be returning to City Hall for a third stint as chief of staff. The challenges ahead for his longtime friend, Emanuel, include confronting the combined $30 billion pension crisis at the city and Chicago Public Schools, and a CPS contracting scandal that could force the mayor to find a permanent replacement for Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

“I can’t talk to you. Everything’s fluid. Typical post-election transition stuff going on,” Claypool said. “I know you’re impatient, but bear with us.”

The CTA president is the only person in decades to have served not one, but two stints as chief of staff — both during the 22-year reign of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The second time, Claypool returned to City Hall after a successful tour of duty as superintendent of the Chicago Park District after scandals that forced the resignations of Ald. Pat Huels (11th), Daley’s City Council floor leader, and then-Police Superintendent Matt Rodriquez.

Meanwhile, two Rauner appointees joined the CTA board Monday at annual salaries of $25,000 each.

Other CTA board members unanimously approved the salaries for Arabel Alva Rosales, the president and CEO of a Chicago technology firm, and Andre Youngblood, a South Holland resident and insurance executive.

Six of seven CTA board members collect annual salaries of $25,000. Chairman Terry Peterson receives $50,000 a year.

Emanuel’s only appointee to the board, Kevin Irvine, waived the right to receive any stipend at Emanuel’s request when he was appointed. Irvine also serves as a board member of Access Living, a disability advocacy group.

Board members also elected board member Ashish Sen, the only appointee of former Gov. Pat Quinn left on the board, as vice chairman after the departure of Quinn appointee and former vice chairwoman Jackie Grimshaw, whose term expired.

Sen is the former director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois-Chicago and also served in the U.S Department of Transportation.

In other business, board members agreed to sell up to 200 of the CTA’s oldest rail cars — the 2600 series — for up to an estimated $853,377. The cars are being sold essentially for the cost of scrap, CTA spokesman Brian Steele said.

CTA officials also revealed more than 1,000 people have volunteered to test the CTA’s new Ventra mobile ticketing app.

“It was an incredible response,” CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said.

Applicants are being culled to an initial test group of 100 people, Chase said. That group will be expanded before the app launches systemwide in late May or June, officials said.