D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) was elected chairman of Metro’s governing board Thursday and said he hoped that the struggling transit agency would become “a shining example of success in the region” after months of chronic operational failures and revelations of financial woes.
Evans, appointed to the Metro board early last year, replaces Mortimer L. Downey, who declined to seek a second one-year term as chairman, saying he was weary of dealing with Metro’s stubborn problems and outside critics — all amid sometimes bitter in-fighting by board members.
Downey, one of eight voting members (two each represent Maryland, Virginia, the District and the federal government), presided over his final board meeting Thursday, but he will remain a member of the governing body.
As much as Downey, a representative of the federal government, was tired of being chairman, Evans was eager to take over the post. He had lobbied his fellow members for the job and was elected unanimously.
While Downey, a former U.S. deputy transportation secretary, is a career transportation professional with a low-key demeanor and a résumé of high-level jobs in and out of government, Evans has long been immersed in municipal politics, serving on the D.C. Council since 1991 and twice running unsuccessfully for mayor. He served a previous stint on the Metro board, from 1992 to 1999, and was chairman in 1994 and 1997.
Evans secured the position after another leading candidate, Jim Corcoran, president of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, suddenly bowed out as a candidate for chairman, saying his chamber duties would not allow him enough time to lead the Metro board. Corcoran is a Virginia representative.
Evans is likely to bring a different, perhaps sharper-elbowed style of leadership to the board, in contrast to the soft-spoken Downey, who seemed to loathe public disagreements.
“I’m a consensus builder,” Evans said after Thursday’s meeting. “I like to get people on board. But I also feel there’s a point in time when you have to move forward, even if you don’t have everybody with you.”
Evans, one of two voting District representatives, was appointed to the board by the D.C. Council on the recommendation of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) shortly after she took office last January.
Although Metro’s general manager traditionally has been the agency’s public face, Evans has said that he plans to assume much of that role, and also will be an active lobbyist for more Metro funding from Washington-area jurisdictions and the federal government.
Asked whether newly hired General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld is comfortable with the chairman taking on a highly public role, Evans said: “I’m going to talk to Paul about that, to see what makes the most sense, and how we do it. … But I intend to be very outgoing as far as board members, so that people can see that I am using the system and can empathize, that I share the concerns they have.”
Wiedefeld said later: “I don’t have any concerns about that at all. He is chairman of the board. Obviously, he has a role to play in that. And if he wants to do it, it’s a plus. I have my own role, and it’s to represent the organization from the operational side of the house. His is the policy role.”
Also Thursday, Metro Police Chief Ronald Pavlik told the board’s safety committee that crime on the transit system was up slightly last year, compared with 2014, but was still below the yearly levels from 2010 to 2013.
Pavlik’s report focused primarily on what are called “Part I crimes,” meaning larceny (1,077 cases), auto theft or attempted theft (76), burglary (0), arson (1), robbery (383), aggravated assault (116), rape (0) and homicide (2). “Overall Part I crime increased by about 5%,” Pavlik’s report said.
The report follows a spate of assaults on Metro trains in the last weeks of 2015, most of them involving juvenile assailants, and perception among some riders that the transit system is becoming less safe when it comes to crime. Earlier Thursday, another incident occurred at the Gallery Place station, where a 35-year-old Red Line rider was roughed up by a large group of rowdy youths.
“I believe Metro is safe,” Evans said after he was elected chairman. “But there’s a perception, because of something like what happened at Gallery Place, and events that have happened over the past year, that maybe it’s not as safe as it could be. And we have to change that reality and that perception.”
Pavlik said: “We have seen a slight increase on the rail side in crime. Obviously these crimes are brazen. It’s troubling when you see a a group of juveniles attack an adult for no provoked reason.” In Thursday’s incident, the 35-year-old man was punched, suffering cuts to his face, and six teenagers out of a group of about 30 were arrested and charged as juveniles with assault.
“It’s troubling when you see this type of wolf pack mentality,” Pavlik said.