City Desk

Catoe Departs Metro: Now Who Will Want This Job?

John Catoe had to go.


Over the past year, and certainly after the June 22 Red Line tragedy, an undeniable chasm developed on the subject of Catoe's performance as Metro's general manager.

The people who use Metro and comment on it from arms' length—those not engaged in day-to-day reporting on the system—have been scathingly critical of Catoe, blaming him for a degrading system, if not the accident itself. Folks with more knowledge of Metro operations—journalists, politicos, administrators, and, of course, WMATA's own board members—more or less stood by Catoe, arguing that he did awfully well with the lousy hand he'd been dealt. Plus, they invariably argued, who else would take the job?

Well, now they have to find someone else to take the job, and that divide bodes ill for the system's next general manager.

So allow LL to ponder the headhunting challenge of our time: Who in the hell would want to take this job?

Consider what the next Metro GM will have to deal with: (a) the worst fiscal crisis in Metro's history, necessitating drastic fare hikes and service cuts; (b) aging infrastructure coupled with pressure to tap the capital budget to cover operating deficits; (c) no solution in sight to the system's funding quandaries (the $300 million in federal/state money helps, but it doesn't solve the dedicated-funding problem); (d) broad rider satisfaction and distrust, not to mention local politicians and senators breathing down your neck; (e) a board dysfunctional by design, constructed in a manner that both indulges regional parochialism and inflames interjurisdictional strife (soon to be heightened by the addition of federal representation).

Today in an phone interview with NewsChannel 8's Bruce DePuyt, Metro board chair Jim Graham said this about WMATA's next general manager: "It's going to take an extraordinary human being. It's going to take somebody who's seasoned in terms of transportation issues but who also has a proven track record of dealing with the types of major challenges that John and the rest of us have had to deal with."

Setting aside the question of whether such a person even exists, LL doubts that person would jump at a Metro job.

Say you're a talented transit manager. You're running a mid-sized system or perhaps you've got a senior post in a large system or government. You're in your 40s, maybe early 50s. You've got kids in school, mortgage and college tuition to pay. You're doing a good job, your bosses are happy with you, but you're itching for a new challenge.

Do you give all that up to move to Washington given (a) through (e) above?

The truth is: If Metro finds a talented leader, it will be the result of luck more than anything else.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, in a statement on Catoe's departure, has it pretty much right: "[C]onsidering the perfect storm of a recession, decreasing ridership, increasing capital costs and the need for new revenue, Metro will be fortunate, indeed, to find a new General Manager not only equal to the task, but desirous of taking it on."

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  • Angry Al Gonzales

    I can think of 30 million un/under/employed people who'd love this job at 10% of Catoe's salary. Catoe was an incompetent - good riddance.

    Promote your best bus driver to CEO or whatever it is. He'd do ten times better than this pussy Catoe.

  • Big-K

    No matter how talented you are which I have no doubt Catoe was however, if you have people whom you rely on to carry out your mandates who either under minds you or due to their incompentence are unable to follow your directions or have postive input. plus big brother congress and jurisdictional BS breathing over your shoulder,even the almighty would not be able to succeed. The next manager if they find one will rund into the same buzz saw.

  • ProudMary

    Wow, Jim "Taxi Cash" "Aids Grift" Graham has managed to put Metro into the same position he left Whitman Walker Clinic before they finally got him out of there. Reading that list was a Deja Vu experience.

  • Dave

    ProudMary, I've seen you use the phrase "Aids Grift" before on these boards, but I'm not entirely certain what you're referring to. Are you talking about graft? That would make more sense than grift, which may not even be a word. And also, are you referring to AIDS or aides? Because both apply in certain contexts to Graham. Please be more clear in your writing.

  • Anonymous, too

    Big-K, you're exactly right. John Catoe is a very decent, competent individual and never had a chance to accomplish much in this viper's den. Good for him departing like the gentleman he is, and shame on his native DC for behaving badly toward him.

  • ABF2010

    Councilmember Jim Graham and his staff are the worst; what do you expect! Our organization sent this letter concerning another topic but similar thoughts to the Council on last evening.

    Honorable Councilmembers,

    We, the displaced workers and residents of Washington DC, are outraged at what this Council is continuing to allow Mayor Fenty's Administration to do to circumvent the laws of this city.

    We are writing to you because we are sick and tired of being made to be complicit in Mr. Fenty using and pitting DC residents against one another. Mr. Fenty, in this election year, is about to hire 100 new DC government Term Employees throughout various government agencies from one of his key supporters Mr. Calvin Woodland and Mr. Woodland's unsanctioned non-profit organization. Most of these new hires from the Calvin Woodland Foundation are ex-offenders and should have gone through the Project Empowerment initiative and yet they did not because of the personal relationship with Mayor Fenty.

    The group of "new employees" will come from the Calvin Woodland Foundation based in Ward 8. What is interesting and questionable about this group is that the president and founder of this organization is Calvin Woodland, Chief of Staff for Councilmember Jim Graham in Ward 1. This is not the first time that this has been done, in fact it has been done every year since Mr. Fenty has been Mayor. While the premise of this appears to be a very lofty undertaking, we find it to be very underhanded and dishonest.

    Under the misrepresentation of budget cuts, Mr. Fenty is laying off DC workers that either he or his staff do not like or who disagree with Mr. Fenty's politics and are now bringing in those loyal to Mr. Fenty, those who he knows he controls through the polls.

    Why is no one looking at this as a conflict of interest for both Mr. Woodland and Mr. Fenty? These new hires are set to come on board before the end of January 2010...STOP this MADNESS!!!

    These jobs will come from various DC government agencies; DPW, DPR, DDOE, DDOT, etc. The positions will be entry level and some will be commensurate with the candidates experience. They are being "set-aside" for this group; some of these positions were frozen due to budget cuts, and now they are being unfrozen for this particular group. None of these positions are being announced on the DCHR website as mandated, nor will they be competed competitively by the general public as is also a DCHR requirement.

    This has been done for three (3) years thus far; it has been done covertly/undercover. Those who know about this are fearful of retribution from Mr. Fenty and his staff if they speak up. It is always done around an election year of either himself or his friends in the Council to garner votes.

    Mr. Fenty and Mr. Woodland's actions beg the question, "why is one DC resident more deserving than another." "Why unemploy one DC resident to employ another?" Did we mention that it cannot be proven that they are all DC residents; it is very easy to get a DC ID and utilize someone else's address.

    Mr. Woodland is a "strong" (to say the least) Fenty supporter. We are entreating this Council to look into this shady backdoor deal. The Unions will not sit silent and allow these underhanded and shady dealing to continue.

    If there are vacancies in DC government and if Mr. Fenty has private sector job support then allow competition or legalized set-asides. First source should come from those currently receiving Unemployment Insurance as President Obama's stimulus package mandate for each jurisdiction/state.

    We request immediate action to put a stop to this unseemly action!

    Thank You,


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  • sedcdude

    Mr. Catoe was set up for failure! He inherited the 'sex for promotion' practices and the fragile and deteriorating infrastructures that led to that train wreck! He was the sacrificial lamb and maintained a GENTLEMAN approach to a ROGUE service! Should have been an asshole from the start, would have earned the mistreatment that came with that position, I'll take it and show em' how it's done!

  • Rick Mangus

    If you hear voices or think that you are Joan of Arch, this is the job for you!

  • Comrade Comadante Al Gonzales

    "Joan of Arch" - hilarious!