U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-1st, returned to Metra headquarters last Friday for a second round of protests. This time he spoke directly to the board of the commuter rail company that is overseeing the $133 million Englewood Flyover project that would ease congestion at the 63rd and State Streets rail intersection.
“Mr. Chairman I came here to shake some things up,” Rush said, explaining that he purposefully did not wear a business suit Friday. “I took off my suit, took off my tie. (I) put on my marching shoes, protests pants and my shirts of disobedience. I came down here to raise some hell … because this contract that you have before you … is a shame, it’s repugnant to my community. It disrespects my community.”
Rush has been up in arms recently after he said he found out that Metra had awarded an “unacceptable” number of contracts to African American contractors. The congressman led a protest May 2 outside of Metra headquarters, drawing — by his count — over 400 demonstrators who demanded that the rail company “rebid the contracts.”
In October, officials, including Rush, Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, gathered at the rail yard in Englewood to announce the flyover project. It was said then that the project would create 1,500 jobs and impact more than 500 freight trains and 700 commuter trains – including Metra’s Rock Island District Line which serves the south suburbs and several South Side communities into downtown Chicago.
Critics of the project expressed at that time their concern that the impoverished Englewood community would not get an equitable slice of the economic pie from the project.
“We’re going to continue to march and talk and march and protest. We’re going to continue until you see the wisdom of being fair to our community,” Rush told the board, acknowledging that he had several friends on the board. Still he wanted Metra to justify, so far, issuing only $112,000 of the multi-million dollar project to Black contractors.
“We’re sick and tired of having all the dust, and all the dirt, and all the delay and none of the dough,” said Rush, who is also pastor of Beloved Community Christian Church in Englewood.
In a previous written statement to the media, Metra said it spent $300,000 to help reach out to the Englewood community regarding this project.
“Metra has been actively engaged with the Englewood community, local elected officials, Illinois Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration for the past two years on this very issue,” according to the statement. “In advance of the construction procurement, Metra held seven DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) outreach events in the Englewood community to provide details on the project to potential DBE firms and attempt to qualify them to be ready to team up with the potential prime contractors that could bid on the project.”
Metra board Chairman Larry Huggins had been silent on the issue before Friday’s meeting, saying he could not comment on the subject. But Friday he spoke out, recalling the meetings he had in Washington, D.C. with several decision makers and stakeholders about this project. Huggins, himself, owns a construction company called Riteway Huggins Construction Services and is a Black contractor with strong roots in the Black business community. He acknowledged that several of the demonstrators, including Rush, were his friends. Huggins assured the protestors that Metra would be fair.
“As a board we are truly committed to the DBE process. We made that commitment in Washington and it’s the board’s intent to honor that commitment, he said. “As an individual that grew up in the Englewood community, I truly understand the impact of what these projects bring to the community. “
Huggins added that the bidding process should be delayed and parties brought back to the table to “work it out.”
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-7th, said he is “confident” that Huggins will work to help straighten the issue out. Davis also addressed the board and called for African American contractors to get a “fair shake.”
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, D-2nd, said he was working when the May 2 protest was held. But he was present last Friday marching with Rush, Davis and others.
“We worked hard to secure the money through the Department of Transportation for the Englewood Flyover and now it’s important that our community reap some of the benefits,” Jackson told the Chicago Citizen outside of Metra headquarters. “We’ve done our part in Washington to bring the resources home. Now Metra cannot fly over us and ignore that there’s a huge unemployment problem right where they are going to be working.”
In a scene reminiscent of a 1960s Civil Rights march, the three congressmen took to the streets and walked from the West Loop into the heart of downtown to the Thompson Center. They crossed a bridge over the Chicago River and proceeded through the Financial District as they made their way to Rush’s pre-Mother’s Day anti-violence rally.
At the Thompson Center the congressmen called for an end to gun violence. He tied unemployment and violence in with their protest of Metra.
“Put down the pistols and pick up a picket sign,” Rush said. “If necessary we will stop Metra in its tracks on its tracks.”
By Rhonda Gillespie