State Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago), whose Northwest Side district includes a large Latino constituency, wants Metra to rename its Healy station at Fullerton and Pulaski on the Milwaukee District North Line for Roberto Clemente, the late Pittsburgh Pirates star from Puerto Rico who died in a 1972 plane crash while on a humanitarian mission to Nicaragua.
And Arroyo wasn’t shy about reminding the board of the government-supported commuter-rail agency that he has a big say in Metra’s funding, as the chairman of the Illinois House Appropriations-Public Safety Committee — a move a Republican on the panel called "a threat."
Here’s what Arroyo told the Metra board Sept. 14, according to the agency’s recording of the meeting:
"This year, our appropriation process was very, very stringent and very hard because I had to cut from last year’s budget. I had to cut $138 million out of the budget. It wasn’t easy. We were talking about closing prisons. We were talking about doing massive cuts across the board.
"I think that Metra, [the] CTA and the mass transit didn’t get any cuts. You guys got all the funding you got. . . .
"So I’m going to support mass transit. I used to be the chairman of [the House Mass Transit Committee] before and, I don’t know, the speaker . . . sent me to Appropriations to deal with the money so, you know, he says I don’t have no problem cutting and doing this, but I only cut the people that don’t do the right stuff. You do the right stuff, you won’t get cut. So, apparently, you guys didn’t get cut. So I don’t think — you guys did a good job, so you won’t get cut.
"So that’s why I’m here today, pleading with you and seeing, before you make any drastic changes on the way you name stations, I would like to get your support on helping me rename Healy station ‘Roberto Clemente.’"
The Healy stop is slated for renovations in a project that’s now in the design phase and ultimately is expected to cost around $4 million, says Metra spokesman Michael Gillis.
"The work hasn’t started, and we don’t have construction money yet to start," Gillis says.
Which means Arroyo’s support is important to Metra.
State Rep. David Reis (R-Olney) — the Republican spokesman for the committee chaired by Arroyo that signs off on transit agency appropriations — says he doesn’t like the tone Arroyo used when speaking with the Metra board. "I could see easily how that could be construed as a threat," says Reis.
Not at all, says Arroyo, though he adds that, after hearing the recording of his remarks, he can see how people who "had their mind in the wrong place" might see it that way.
"I never said, ‘If you don’t get the station, maybe you get [funding] cut,’ " Arroyo says. "If there was something misconstrued or misinterpreted or I made a mistake, I apologize."
Alex Clifford, Metra’s executive director, says through a spokesman: "I didn’t take [Arroyo’s statements] as a threat."
Metra’s acting board chairman, Larry Huggins, told Arroyo after his remarks: "I got to tell you, Roberto Clemente was one of my heroes years ago, and I just personally think that, with board approval, it would probably be an honor to name that station after Roberto Clemente. So that is something that we will definitely consider."
The Healy station has carried that name since at least 1914, according to Gillis. It reflects a bit of Chicago’s history, named for one of the founders of Lyon & Healy harp makers. That well-known name in the music business was founded in Chicago in 1864 by George Washburn Lyon and Patrick J. Healy. The company used to have its factory nearby on Fullerton and still makes its harps at a factory at Ogden Avenue and Lake Street in the West Loop.
A spokeswoman says the company opposes renaming the Healy station.
"Lyon & Healy Harps would be very disappointed if the station was renamed," company spokeswoman Keri Armendariz says. "Mr. Healy was one of our co-founders and an important contributor to the histories of both Chicago and the music industry.
"It was the sincere love of music and the enterprising nature of Mr. Healy which drove our company to improve an instrument already thought to be perfect. At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition [in] Chicago, Lyon & Healy received an award for excellence in harp because of these improvements."
This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth and Dave McKinney of the Chicago Sun-Times. To reach them, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (312) 821-9030.