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The political bike tour and another side of Phil Pagano
In Transit
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff

Rich Whitney, Green Party candidate for governor, and campaign manager Lynne Serpe ride their bicycles to Barrington from the Arlington Heights train station Thursday.


Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

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Published: 5/23/2010 12:01 AM

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Call it politics as unusual.

Political campaigns aren't my bailiwick but I had to bite when I got a news release from Green Party governor hopeful Rich Whitney.

Conventional wisdom holds that Whitney, a Carbondale attorney, has a tough fight ahead of him if he wants to beat incumbent Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn or Republican challenger state Sen. Bill Brady.

But what he may lack in numbers, Whitney is making up in sweat with a sustainable transportation tour around the state.

That's right. Whitney is taking Metra, Amtrak, MetraLink and his bicycle to reach such exotic locales as Belleville, Carbondale, Alton, Springfield and Rockford.

He started off with a train trip to Arlington Heights Thursday followed by a bike ride to Palatine. Today, he's in St. Charles, Geneva and Aurora. Monday, it's Naperville to Joliet and the rest of the week is downstate finishing Friday in Carbondale.

Whitney admitted it wouldn't be a walk in the park. Although he rides his bike regularly, it's not quite the same as a weeklong marathon.

"It's a challenge but one I'm ready for," he said, adding the trip emphasized the need for a more transit- and bicycle-friendly infrastructure.

Rather him than me. I still have nightmares about my three-hour trek from Downers Grove to Arlington Heights on public transit for Chicagoland Carfree Day last fall.

Now the question is, will Brady and Quinn top this?

Flotsam and jetsam

• Metra's been under the microscope since April after revelations of financial misconduct by former Executive Director Phil Pagano, who killed himself May 7. A Metra report subsequently revealed he had received nearly half a million dollars in unauthorized vacation pay advances and owed the agency about $127,000.

Pagano's been praised as someone who ran a complex agency skillfully but questions about the misuse of funds and his unchallenged authority are at the forefront of the news now.

Reader Sharon Lamp has a different take on Pagano.

Lamp, who uses a wheelchair and is a former co-chair of the Metra Accessibility Committee, writes that Pagano worked with her group for nearly 18 years.

"He was a straightforward and humble man who diligently attended our meetings and tirelessly worked with us ... often staying after normal business hours to do so. He took to heart the charge to make Metra accessible to people with disabilities. Under his leadership, Metra evolved from a commuter rail system where accessibility to disabled riders was virtually unheard of to one in which accessibility and ridership by people with disabilities has become the norm.

"Mr. Pagano understood the importance of reliable accessible transportation for people with disabilities and he shared our vision of accessibility as a goal that could be achieved with practicality and cooperation. Hundreds of people with disabilities now ride Metra each day to work, school, etc. When all is said and done, Phil Pagano left a disability and human-rights legacy for Metra to be proud of and to carry forward. He helped make the world a better place for people with disabilities."

• Regional Transportation Authority officials emerged from an executive session Thursday to announce the only comment they could make about the Metra scandal was no comment on the orders of the U.S. attorney's office. The RTA has financial oversight of Metra, which begs the question what do they intend to do about the misuse of public funds? No one's talking, but I wouldn't be surprised if the agency slaps Metra with an audit soon.

• Free inspections and installations of child safety seats are offered this week by the Illinois tollway. Times are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Lake Forest Oasis and Thursday at the Lincoln Oasis in South Holland.