WASHINGTON - There has been another setback for Metro in the search for a new general manager. The top candidate for the job has walked away and critics are coming out swinging, including Virginia's governor.
Metro board chairman Mort Downey said talks with other candidates are ongoing, but news that the troubled agency was unable to secure their top pick is frustrating to riders and local leaders.
Downey issued a statement on Monday saying:
WMATA and Neal Cohen have mutually agreed that Mr. Cohen is no longer under consideration to become WMATA's General Manager. The executive recruitment process to determine who will lead WMATA remains ongoing, and discussions with candidates are actively underway. For that reason, we will not comment further on the search, except to say that the Board remains committed to completing the process as quickly as possible.
So what happened? Was it all the media attention and public scrutiny after Cohen’s name was leaked?
“He hasn’t even accepted the job yet and his picture is on the front of Express,” said Chris Barnes, the founder of the watchdog blog, FixWMATA. “So you have to get kind of slapped in the face even though this is running a transit agency and it's a general manger position. You are going to be in the public face. You are going to have to deal with public scrutiny about everything.”
Barnes runs the @FixWMATA Twitter handle and founded the WMATA Riders’ Union. He said the unwanted attention wasn't the only deal breaker. Cohen also serves on several boards and reportedly would have had to walk away from those positions.
“It sounds like Mr. Cohen might have been in a position where he would have lost some money by losing some board seats that may have been in competition with his general management position,” said Barnes.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe released a statement after learning that Cohen was no longer under consideration for the job:
I am outraged by the latest setback in a process that would be comical if the need for new leadership at Metro were not so great. Identifying and hiring a qualified General Manager is the WMATA Board’s chief responsibility and the first step that must be taken in order to oversee the safety and operational changes that are essential to Metro’s long-term sustainability. The leaks and petty political sniping that have come to define the work of this board are harming the Metro system and the economy of the region it serves. The time has long past for the Board of Directors to bring this process to a close, or for the governments that comprise the system to find board members who will.
Metro has suffered serious safety problems and the agency is now under direct federal supervision because of those issues, which include the death of Carol Glover, a passenger who died on a smoke-filled train back in January.
Metro is also hurting financially and ridership is down.
Metro’s general manager position has been unfilled for about a year now despite the transit agency paying nearly six figures to help them recruit a candidate.