Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) made an appearance on the Metro Thursday morning.
This story has been updated.
Longtime D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), an infrequent rider of trains and buses, was elected chair of the Metro board of directors on Thursday by a unanimous vote of the transit system’s governing body.
The Georgetown legislator, who was chairman twice during his first stint on Metro's board in the 1990s, became a favorite to land the position after current chair Mort Downey announced last year he would not seek a second one-year term. Another favorite, Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce president Jim Corcoran, withdrew from consideration Jan. 6.
In the end, Evans may have been the only board member who wanted the chairmanship.
"I certainly did want the job. I’m a big fan of Metro and always have been. I want to make Metro the shining example of success for this region,” Evans, 62, said in remarks to reporters at WMATA headquarters.
A veteran politician known for occasionally illegally parking in spots where his special D.C. Council license plates save him from being ticketed, Evans promised to ride the transit system more frequently.
“I rode it here today,” he said. “One of my goals is to visit all 91 Metro stops.”
Evans is assuming leadership of a politically fractured group of appointees from four jurisdictions. They spent the better part of 2015 competing over transit policy, finances and, most noticeably, the hiring of a new general manager. An executive search close to wrapping up in February wound up dragging to November because of board disagreements. The fight left the second-busiest subway system in America without permanent leadership for close to a year.
Evans wants to convince Congress to provide money not only to cover Metro’s day-to-day operating expenses but also for a $6 billion wish list of unfunded expansion projects.
“We'll see if there is an opportunity for them to help out here,” he said. “One thing we have to do is make sure the system is running well, and then we can ask for some more money.”
To what extent Evans’ agenda coincides with the priorities of the new general manager, Paul J. Wiedefeld, remains to be seen. They plan to meet soon.
Since taking the job on Nov. 30, Wiedefeld has emphasized improving safety and reliability before approaching Congress for any assistance.
“My priority is to get service to the level where it should be,” Wiedefeld said. “Of course, these other issues are important, but I think, [based on] where I am and where this agency is, for me to take my eye off the ball…it’s not the right time to do that.”
Jack Evans returned to Metro’s 16-member board last January, appointed by his fellow D.C. Council members. He and business executive Corbett Price are the District’s two voting members. Evans was tapped to lead the board’s finance panel, and repeatedly pressed management to straighten out the transit authority’s finances and file audits on time. The prior two audits were late.
Evans’ sharpened political elbows will succeed Mort Downey’s softer, consensus-building style. Downey, 79, did not have the support among fellow board members for a second one-year term, and last year admitted to being drained by the protracted search for a new general manager.
"I am a consensus-builder. I like to get everyone on board. But I think there is a point that you just have to move forward even if you don’t have everybody with you,” said Evans.
"I have no regrets about what we've done over the last year and I hope to continue to work with my colleagues to make this an even better place over the next year,” said Downey, a federal appointee to the WMATA board whose career in transportation spans half a century.
He and the other three federal representatives — Harriet Tregoning, Anthony Costa and Anthony Giancola — may not last their terms. They were all appointed by the General Services Administration, but Congress shifted the appointment power to the Department of Transportation in order to ensure future appointees are well-versed in transportation policy.
It is unclear when Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx may make new appointments. “I haven’t heard a thing from them,” Downey said. “If you hear, let me know.”