Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hugo Chavez vs. Frank Kruesi

There is an excellent piece in the current issue of the Chicago Reader on how CTA President Frank Kruesi rejected Venezuela's offer of discounted fuel. (Here's the link, but it's to a .pdf of the current issue - my excerpts below are my own transcription.)

The offer was part of a recent effort by Venezuela to share a fraction of its oil wealth with the poor in the US. Putting aside the question of whether Hugo Chavez is just looking to embarass President Bush, $15 million worth of free gasoline isn't chump change. It represents a little less than a third of the CTA's escalating annual fuel budget, and it comes at a time when the agency desperately needs all the cash it can get - the CTA is nearly bankrupt, as Kreusi repeatedly reminds riders.

To those blog readers who do not take CTA or aren't familiar with recent events, they have hiked fares and threatened to cut service due to budget woes; the Illinois assembly bailed them out late last year, but it was like pulling teeth getting that money. So yeah, $15 million worth of free gas would be rather welcome.

The Venezuelans approached local politicians - Alderman Billy Ocasio and US Rep. Luis Guttierrez - and made the offer. These guys set up a meeting, and invited Kruesi along. Kruesi blew it off. Later, Kruesi met with Ocasio and another alderman and discussed the offer:

Ocasio: "Frank said, 'That's a very generous offer, but I don't want to get involved in foreign policy.'" According to Ocasio, Kruesi felt that if CTA took Venezuela's money, it would anger congressional Republicans and Bush Admin officials, who might retaliate by cutting Chicago's federal transportation funds. ... But Ocasio researched the matter and discovered that the Bush administation had not opposed Citgo's offer to other cities. ...

Kruesi continued the resist, even when presented with ample evidence that he needn't worry about such things. In fact, many legislators are furious with him for turning this down, since they know he'll be coming to them for more money the next time there's a budget crunch.

"I don't want to start the new Year with a fight," says Gutierrez, "but we got $15 million on the table for a transit company that's raising fares and Kruesi's saying no? We got to fight."

As if Kruesi's recalcitrance isn't bad enough, he's not even keeping his own people in on it. Observe:

In a letter to Venezuela's consul general, CTA President Carole Brown wrote: "I was intrigued to learn from media reports about your interest in helping to reduce the impact of high fuel costs on CTA customers. ... I would be interested in learning more about your thoughts on ways to help ease the burden these higher costs place on the CTA and its customers. I look forward to hearing from you."

"Could this be possible?" says Guttierez. "Did the president of the board really learn about the offer by reading the papers? Did Frank keep the board in the dark?"

Kruesi has since changed his tune and the offer is apparently still in the works.

The whole article is worth a read. I wonder if Kruesi learned his lesson - I doubt it. The good news is that Ocasio and Guttierrez have, and will now go directly to the Board instead of wasting time with Frank.


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