Metro’s board is set to select either Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Jim Corcoran or D.C. Council member Jack Evans as its next chairman, and Corcoran appears to have broader support before a key meeting this week, officials said.
The election of a chairman will give the transit agency new leaders in both of its top positions as it seeks to recover from one of its most difficult years in recent history. In November, the board named a new general manager, Paul J. Wiedefeld, after a prolonged search slowed by sharp divisions on the 16-member panel.
The new chairman will replace Mortimer L. Downey, a veteran transportation executive who is stepping down after a year partly because of his frustrations with the job.
Board members are scheduled to discuss picking the next chairman in executive session at a regular meeting Thursday. The selection is due by the next regular meeting on Jan. 28.
Corcoran said Tuesday he would be honored to be considered for the chairmanship, but he needed to discuss it with the full leadership of the chamber of commerce he has headed for nearly six years. Evans confirmed that he would like to get the job but declined to comment further.
Although board members and other officials said Corcoran and Evans (D-Ward 2) were both strong candidates, several predicted Corcoran would be selected. That was partly because he was seen as acceptable to all factions on the board and thus able to rebuild consensus among the fractured group.
“I think he won support as someone who’s an honest broker, who doesn’t have an agenda,” said a senior state official in Virginia, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations are confidential.
By contrast, Evans has been allied with a group of new board members who have pushed hard for nearly a year to shake up the agency.
Evans and other representatives from the District and Maryland pressed for the next general manager to be a turnaround specialist who would move aggressively to solve problems with finances, safety and reliability. Others on the board stressed finding someone with experience with transit operations.
Corcoran “is the favorite because he’s a compromise candidate,” said a board member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because no vote has been taken.
The board, in addition to picking the general manager, oversees Metro’s strategy and approves its budget.
The panel often struggles to resolve differences among its three jurisdictions — the District, Virginia and Maryland — and last year was especially trying. The year began with a deadly smoke incident at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station and was followed by disputes over finances, expanding the system, a derailment and service disruptions.
The Virginia official said the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) came out strongly for Corcoran after representatives from Maryland and the District Transportation Department’s staff members expressed their support for him in December.
“We were told, quite frankly, by Maryland and D.C. representatives that they had coalesced around him,” the Virginia official said.
Corcoran was reluctant at first, but he agreed to consider the job when Richmond said it would support him.
Corcoran also wanted to ensure that conflict-of-interest problems wouldn’t arise because of his work with the chamber, known until recently as the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. Its members include companies that do business with Metro.
Board members said Corcoran, if selected, would have to recuse himself from any discussions involving firms that belong to the chamber.
Asked why other Metro board members would support Corcoran, the Virginia official said it was partly because he joined the board 11 months ago and thus couldn’t be blamed for the prior deterioration of the system.
“He wasn’t there when all this [bad] stuff happened,” the official said.
District Transportation Director Leif A. Dormsjo, who also is a Metro board member, demurred when asked whether his staff members had told Virginia that they supported Corcoran over the District’s Evans.
“It is more accurate to indicate that I contacted VA to communicate that the board should pick the best person for the job of chair and not be locked into a rigid rotation, which had been the Board’s past practice,” Dormsjo said in an email.
Dormsjo continued: “Both Mr. Corcoran and Mr. Evans have demonstrated outstanding leadership since joining the Board.”
If the past practice of rotating the chairmanship were followed, then a Maryland board member would become the next chair.
This has put Maryland in a delicate position. It wants to preserve the principle that a rotation should be followed, partly so it is sure of getting the chairmanship next time if it wants it.
In the current process, however, the Maryland candidate would be Prince George’s lawyer Keturah D. Harley, and board members said she was inclined against taking the job. They said she was concerned about the time commitment and her relative lack of experience on the board, which she joined in April.
Harley did not respond Tuesday to emails and a phone message requesting comment.