Some say Duncan is perfect for Metro job; others aren't so sure
General manager's position will open April 2 when Catoe exits
Several Maryland politicians believe former Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan could be the solution to Metro's problems, but public transit advocates are not so sure.
News reports surfaced recently that Duncan was interested in applying for the general manager position at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Duncan has declined to comment.
The Metro general manager's position will be open in about six weeks. John Catoe Jr. surprised the troubled transit system's board of directors Jan. 18 by announcing that he plans to retire, effective April 2.
Duncan could be a great leader for Metro during this troubled period of its history, said Majority Leader Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg.
"I actually think he'd do a pretty good job at it," Barve said. "One of the things Duncan did well was handling a crisis. If there was ever a guy to make the trains run on time, Doug is probably that guy."
Metro has been plagued by financial and safety problems in recent years, including a budget gap of $40 million in the current fiscal year and a series of fatal accidents. The worst accident in the system's 33-year history occurred June 22, when a Red Line crash killed nine people and injured 70.
"It comes down to this: If you need somebody who has leadership skills, if Metro is a broken organization I don't know if it is or not if you need someone to motivate people, Doug is the guy," Barve said. "If you just need a technocrat, then Doug isn't the guy. It's a question of what ails the system."
But public transit supporters say Duncan had a mixed record of support for public transit when he was county executive, backing some aspects of Ride On's bus routes yet also cutting back on evening routes.
"He was good on Metrorail issues, but I don't know who isn't supportive of Metrorail," said Pam Lindstrom, land-use committee chairwoman of the Sierra Club of Montgomery County. "But he was always very equivocal about the Purple Line," a proposed light-rail Metro line that would run parallel to the Capital Beltway.
"He actually opposed a Purple Line route through the University of Maryland [at College Park] that many other people strongly supported," Lindstrom said. "The Purple Line is the place to judge Doug Duncan by."
Duncan's experience dealing with other leaders throughout the Washington, D.C., region would benefit him in dealing with the Maryland, Virginia and District of Columbia officials who oversee the Metro authority, Barve said.
"This is a transit system that has to keep three separate governments happy, and Doug can do that. That's not a technocratic skill, that's a political skill, and Doug has that," Barve said.
U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen (D-Dist. 8) of Kensington agreed.
"[Duncan] would be a very good choice, clearly a very strong candidate based on his tenure as Montgomery County executive," Van Hollen said, pointing to Duncan's support of the Ride On and Metro public transit systems as executive.
In deciding to leave the general manager's job, Catoe said in a prepared statement that it was time for him to head in a new direction and offer a chance for Metro to "move beyond the current distractions."
"Good leaders know how to impact change," he said. "Great leaders know when it's time for leadership change. I hope I fall into the latter category."