Oberman elected chairman of Metra Board of Directors
(February 11, 2014) -
The Metra Board of Directors today unanimously elected Martin J. Oberman, a former Chicago alderman with a long career as a leader of the reform effort in politics, to be the next chairman of the board.
“I am honored and humbled to earn the respect and the votes of my fellow board members,” Mr. Oberman said following his election. “I feel that all of us on the board are ready to move this agency forward in consensus and in unison.”
Mr. Oberman, a respected public figure in Chicago for nearly four decades, is well-positioned to be an effective voice for Metra, particularly in demonstrating that the agency has turned a corner and is committed to moving forward. Such skills will be needed, particularly in Springfield and Washington, at a time when Metra urgently needs billions of dollars to address its capital needs.
Mr. Oberman, who was appointed to the board by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel last September, stressed that Metra must move beyond regional divisions and competition and act in the best interests of the system as a whole. For example, businesses are unlikely to be attracted to the city or suburbs without a robust public transportation network.
“A well-functioning Metra is essential to the economic well-being of the entire six-county region,” Mr. Oberman said. “Chicago cannot flourish unless there is ample commuter transportation for suburban dwellers who work in the city and come into the city for culture and entertainment. By the same token, suburban areas cannot thrive unless Metra provides first-rate commuter service – including reverse-commute service – to the entire region.”
Mr. Oberman said he was intent on establishing Metra as a well-run railroad corporation, operated with the highest degree of professionalism, honesty and transparency and insulated from improper political interference. Noting that there are no simple answers to the complex challenges facing Metra, he said his job will be to encourage all viewpoints and to build as broad a consensus as possible.
“The days of the chairman acting as a power center are over,” he said. “I am just one of 11 votes, and all of us will have an equal voice in Metra’s affairs.”
Mr. Oberman most notably served as an alderman from Chicago’s 43rd Ward from 1975 to 1987, where he was known for his independence and for pushing a reform agenda. Highlights of his career at City Hall include creating the Planned Manufacturing District concept, the first in the nation, to protect heavy industrial areas; being the first Chicago alderman to champion community policing, a groundbreaking concept at the time; and sponsoring and being the catalyst for numerous anti-corruption measures, structural reforms of city government, gay rights and non-smoking ordinances. He received a Best Alderman award from the Independent Voters of Illinois.
He also served as chairman of an ad hoc commission comprised of labor and management representatives that was appointed in 1979 to develop a municipal employee collective bargaining system.
From 1987 to 1988, he was chairman of the Shoreline Protection Commission, which produced a detailed report to rehabilitate Chicago’s shoreline while ensuring environmental protection.
In 2013, he served as a member of the Midway Advisory Panel, a committee established to oversee the potential privatization of Midway Airport.
Mr. Oberman received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Yale University in 1966. He then attended the University of Wisconsin Law School, receiving his Juris Doctor in 1969. He served as Note Editor of the Wisconsin Law Review in 1968-1969 and graduated Order of the Coif.
His legal career began in 1969, working as an associate at the firm that is now Sidley & Austin until 1972. He then served as the first General Counsel to the Illinois Racing Board from 1973-1974, handling numerous assignments, including rewriting the Board’s regulations, advancing proposals to prevent abuse through drugging, drafting a completely new statute for the industry and conducting investigations of corruption.
He had a private, part-time law practice during his City Council tenure.
He was a partner at Gould and Ratner from 1988 to 1989. Since 1989, he has been in private practice handling complex litigation across a broad array of matters. He has argued appeals in federal and state appellate courts, and has been admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court, Illinois Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third and Seventh Circuits and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Mr. Oberman is married and the father of two adult children. He still lives in Lincoln Park, the Chicago community he represented in the City Council.