After Joe Boardman, who?

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Thursday, December 17, 2015

My first reaction upon reading Joe Boardman’s plan to retire as chief executive of Amtrak next September was that my fellow Trains columnist, Don Phillips, will need to find new topics to write about—Joe and Don were not a marriage made in heaven. Then I reread the Boardman’s statement, which ends this way: “The Board has asked me to work closely with them in the selection of the new CEO. I am confident that the time I have given the Board they can achieve the goal of selecting a good leader for this company and provide a level of transition that a company like Amtrak deserves.”

Why does that give me bad vibes?

It suggests to me Boardman wants to pick his successor. Why else the long, long lead time? Put that together with the fact that his friend and Amtrak board member Tom Carper (not the highly regarded Democratic senator from Delaware and an Amtrak champion, but the former mayor of Macomb, Ill., of the same name) has expressed interest in the job . . . and conspiracy theories began sprouting like wild mushrooms.

Recall, please, that this is how Boardman got the job in late autumn of 2008. Alex Kummant (I bet you don’t remember him) had slunk off, never to be missed. As administrator of the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration, Boardman  sat on Amtrak’s board, as did former Mayor Carper. The board immediately named Boardman acting president while it sought a permanent successor and later, giving up the pretense of a search, made the appointment permanent. So there is precedent for Amtrak’s board growing a president from within its own ranks. There is precedent, in other words, for my paranoia.

Tom Carper of Macomb might make a good Amtrak president, although not as good a president as Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, who has announced his intention to seek a new term in 2016. But he is nowhere near the best choice, just as Joe Boardman was nowhere near the best choice in 2008 (even though I think he's done a good job given the circumstances).

So I am opening the floor for nominations. If my paranoia has any basis in fact, let’s not let Amtrak’s board name Tom Carper of Macomb as the only viable candidate, because I have a few good names of my own. But first, let’s hear yours.—Fred W. Frailey

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