Jackson Graham has been retired as general manager of Washington's Metro for more than two years, but his knowledge and unquestioning belief in the subway remain intense, even in this desert playland of golf greens, blue sky and the motorcar.
At 62, Graham does not look retired, just successful. The deep voice with which he intimidated his staff and dominated Washington area politicians for nine years resonates with assurance. When he makes a statement, it is delivered in tones that leave no room for further debate.
"Of course, Metro should still be completed," Graham said. He suffered that question only because he was cleary enjoying the stage again. "Metro should be completed immediately. And to my mind, an extension to Dulles Airport is a must. Our fundamental objective was to get the ends of that thing our beyond the Beltway and then to built extensions," he said.
While politicians of Washington metropolitan area are mired in a debate with the Carter administration about whether to complete, and how to pay for, all 100 miles of the Metro they planned, Jackson Graham is talking about extensions.
There is no question, even in Washington, that Metro is a fact. Jackson Graham is the reason. He guaranteed Metro because he go the subway system beyond the point of no return before questions of cost and need could overtake it.
Graham, a retired general in the Army Corps of Engineers, brought Metro to that point with a combination of charm, knowledge, arrogance, efficiency and incredible energy.
"I don't take personal credit for Metro," he said. "One of those Washington newspapers said I was the right guy in the right time at the right place." He retired when he did, Graham said, "because I could see that the power to carry out my duties was going to crumble."
During a three-hour interview here, Graham derided local politicians as "little people," blasted presidents of the United States for forsaking a "moral commitment," defended decisions such as the one to build the National Metro station blocks away from the airport terminal and declined to admit mistakes if, indeed, he thinks he made any.
It was a virtuoso performance from the man Metro recruited in 1967 to get the long-discussed Washington subway off dead center. There was a plan and a general design. Then and nothing else. When Graham retired Jan. 31, 1976, nine years, 45 miles of Metro was under construction and the first trains were making test runs under downtown Washington.
Five stations had been completed. More than 1.8 billion had been spent to move 8 million cubic yards of dirt and to buy 2 million cubic yards of concrete, 150,000 tons of reinforcing steel bars, 25,000 tons of structural steel and 80 million boards feet of lumber.
But in 1976, it was clear that much more money would be needed to build Metro than the $2 billion figure Graham had earlier defended in Congress. It also was clear that Metro never would make enough money in fares to pay for its operating costs, as had been promised in the propaganda buildup that got Metro going.
It was a good time to leave. Graham and his wife, Mabel Lee, have bought a retirement home behind the secure walls of Seven Lakes Country Club here. Graham was dressed casually when he greeted the reporter in the club dining room, but his hair was so closely cropped as it ever was during his distinguished Army career.
He had carefully checked on the credentials and reputation of the reporter, whom he had never met. Just so there would be no misunderstanding, he had typed a six-paragraph statement on his view of the status of Metro.
"The current indicision over completion of Metro and the marked slowdown in work placement are tragic, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in inflation," the statement said.
"More than anything, the situation evolves from an inexcusable failure by the federal government, both White House and Congress, to carry through on formal commitments made less than a decade ago. Watergate triggered the failure, causing the loss of top leaders and Metro supporters at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue," the statement said.
Richard Nixon supported Metro and got it going, Graham explained. Gerald Ford, an auto state congressman who had led Republican opposition to Metro on Capitol Hill, hardly could be expected to become a "pro-Metro president" overnight. The congressional elections of 1974 "left Metro virtually exposed to the negative House leadership of Diggs and Natcher, and newly hired Hill staffers in 1975 worked fulltime at harassment of Metro officals.
Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. (D-Mich.) is chairman of the House District of Columbia Committee and a motor city congressman. Rep. William H. Natcher (D-Ky.) is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for the District of Columbia, who single-handedly blocked Metro construction money in 1970 and 1971.
Metro was conceived as a partnership of federal, state and local interests, and its current problems reflect the "crumbling of the moral commitment" to that partnership by the federal government, Graham said. "I put the blame for that on President Ford when I left Metro; now I put it on President Carter," he said.
Metro's federal money originally came from its own account, divorced from the federal Department of Transportation. When the original pot of money ran out, however, funds for Metro became just another demand on the national transportation program.
"I was very unhappy about that change," Graham said. "I knew we'd be feeding at the same Department of Transportation though as everybody else. We'd never be calling our own shots again."
Graham likes to call his own shots. Once he took charge of Metro, he took charge.For example, he likes the color brown, and Metro's basic color is brown. The interiors of Metro cars are combinations of beiges, browns and reds. He selected the colors.
He regards himself as an expert in graphics and design and personally rammed through the Metro board decisions about how subway riders would determine their wherabouts - from letters set sideways on brown pylons instilled at 45-degree angles on platforms in stations with subdued lighting.
One of the first things Theodore C. Lutz did as Metor's new general manager was install some horizontal signs on the sides of Metro stations so people could read without straining their necks. Graham does not approve.
"I understand they have striped the walls like every other goddamn system in the world and have corrupted themselves by putting in advertising," he said.
The National Airport station, a cab ride from the aiport terminal, "isn't in the wrong place," Graham insisted. "We'd be building that thing yet if we had tried to go underground" and under the main terminal, as former Federal Aviation Administration chief John H. Shaffer wanted Metro to do.
An underground station there would have cost $50 million more than did the elevated one, Graham said. "Who was cost conscious on the one?" he demanded. Actually, there is plenty of blame to be shared about National Airport, and that is another story.
Graham simply brushed aside suggestions that he concealed Metro's escalating construction costs. He testified on many occasions that metro could be built for $2.5 billion. Natcher charged regularly that the full subway system would cost twice that much and held up the money to help make his prediction come true.
The two debated the point endlessly at appropriations hearings. It is now estimated that the full 100-mile Metro system will cost $6 billion.
Graham was specifically asked if he distorted or concealed the true costs of metro as inflation and other factors, began to drive up construction bills.
"Congressman Natcher would disagree," Graham said. "But I don't think I did anything dishonest. You can't change estimates everyday." Then he arched his right eyebrow and grinned. "We only redid estimates once a year - after the congressional appropriations hearings, not before."
Donald R. O'Hearn, the man who does construction estimates and tracks costs for Metro, said Metro's internal estimate of $2.5 billion was made in january 1969, then revised to $2.9 billion in November 1970. That estimate held until January, 1974, more than three years later. Then the price was put at $4.5 billion.
O'Hearn said that "Graham used to tell us that we had public sympathy now but that it would dwindle as construction continued. "We had to get (the subway) open and operational and in a position to prove itself as quickly as possible. That was the game plan."
Rising construction costs were part of Graham's problem. The other major part was that Metro had to become an operating agency earlier than was planned. In early 1973, Metro inherited four failing bus companies and found itself in the transit business rather than just the construction business. Even the most sympathetic critic will not give Graham and his staff high marks for operation of that bus system. The most frequent criticism is that buses were ignored while everybody concentrated on building the subway.
Metrobus "certainly diverted a lot of energy," Graham said. "But when we were asked by Congress if we could take it over, we had to answer affirmatively."
Again, there was a credibility problem. Metro officials testified that buses could be run with a minimum of public subsidy. But costs to local taxpayers for running buses rose dramatically from nothing to almost $50 million in three years. There was alarm.
Did you make any mistake? Graham was asked.
He never answered the question directly, even after it was repeated. Instead, he said, "I don't believe in interference from the Metro board. These guys all were busy" and did not have time to learn details. "It worked out pretty good," he said. Graham was famous for providing only those details that suited his case.
The list of Metro board members includes some of the best-known who theoretically directed Graham names, past and present, in Washington area politics - Frederick Babson, Walter Fauntroy, Joseph Fisher, James P. Gleason, Herbert E. Harris, Carlton Sickles, Gladys Spellman, Sterling Tucker and Walter Washington.
Although Graham spoke highly about several individuals on that list, he also said:
"These little people start out and decide to run for political office. Why does a guy decide to run?He's not getting sufficient job satisfaction. He gets elected. He gets Potomac fever . . .
"There wasn't one of them that didn't grow on the Metro board . . . But the more successful people in law, business, etc., haven't got the time to start running . . ."
Graham was particularly scornful of the board's response to a series of wildcat bus driver strikes shortly after Metro took over the systems. Graham does not believe in unions for public employes and was conducting a hardline negotiation, he said.
"All the board members stood around and complained about costs and how much bus drivers make. But the minute service was threatened with a strike, they caved in. A politician has to get a little frantic.The only guidance I would get from them is, 'For God's sake, get the buses running,'" Graham said.
Sickles, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates from Prince George's County, a former Maryland congressman, a former Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate and a man who certainly deserves a large percentage of the title, Father of Metro, was close to Graham. They still see each other occasionally.
According to Graham, Sickles once told him, "Jack, you've got to patronize the board member a bit."
It is not recorded that he ever tried.
Graham was willing to conceded that he dominated the board most of the time, but he was genuinely offended at the suggestion he "terrified" his staff. The verb was chosen because it had been used by three different staff members on three separate occasions to describe Graham to a reporter.
"Terrify? That just wasn't so," he said. "Use words like 'occasionally dominating,'" he ordered. "How can a guy terrify somebody if he never raises his voice to them?" In a letter to a reporter after the interview, Graham wrote a marginal note that said, "Terrified? Hogwash."
It must also be said that many members of the Metro staff are extremely loyal to Graham, that all of them who knew him respect him enormously and that many, especially those in construction, wish he still were there.
Construction was Graham's passion. His father was superintendent fo construction for the Golden Gate Bridge, and young Jack Graham worked on that monument to architecture and engineering.
Many years later, as an Army major general, he headed civil works for the Corps of Engineers. "That's the pork barrel," he said - dams, tunnels, waterway projects.
He took the Metro job after an artificial valve was implanted in his heart, and building metro "probably saved my life," he said. "It was certainly the job in which I had the most fun. There were fewer bosses than in the Army - just the board once a week."
He rode his motorcycle through metro tunnels on Sunday afternoons, inspecting construction. He drove the staff and the board to work through holidays and dictated decision after decision.
Graham still keeps in touch. He receives all major internal reports that go to Metro board members - a courtesy also extended to several former board members.
"Don't put that in the paper," he said. "Some taxpayer will get upset . . . I would try to influence (Metro decision), and I don't sent gratuitous advice. That would be ridiculous."
In retirement, Graham has taken his energy and strong will to the golf course. He had never played before he retired and now had a handicap. He claims to be playing as many as 45 holes a day on the short "executive course" in his retirement community.
Roy T. Dodge, Graham's deputy in charge of construction and design who recently retired, tried to get Graham on the golf course many times. "He always said nothing was worth spending four hours on," Dodge said.
"My big aim," Graham said, "is to make a hole-in-one."
He signed the check at the golf club dining room, where he is a member, and refused reimbursement.
"That's why we're eating here," he said. "Only I can get the check," he had control.