Decorated Army Seargeant chosen to lead nation’s third largest transit authority.
The national search to find the next Chief Executive Officer at Metro halted swiftly after the Metro board of directors examined the qualifications of Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) General Manager, Phillip A. Washington.
In the L.A. Sentinel’s exclusive interview with Washington, his powerful personal story about his own experiences and his perspective about social equity was bold and unapologetic.
“Yes, there was a search process and I did interview with some competition out there; yes, there was a process. And I’m happy to say that I was successful,” Washington proudly stated.
His experience in Denver and concern about equity issues, and his ability to make accessibility of transit through affordable bus and light rail fares and passes and meaningful bus service routes for lower-income communities and communities of color fit the city of Los Angeles like a glove.
Therefore it should have come as little surprise when the Metro board of directors voted unanimously to hire Washington as the agency’s new CEO.
His six years of transforming the RTD in Denver was more than enough to convince the board.
When asked how he was going to engage the Black community, he said:
“Well, I think it’s just about keeping open lines of communication. Your newspaper (L.A. Sentinel) is the first newspaper I’ve talked to. We need to keep those lines of communication open and I’m not just talking about with me personally, but with the entire Metro organization,” said Washington.
Los Angeles is most fortunate to have Washington, many in the transportation industry knew it was just a matter of time that the Chicago native would be headed for bigger and better things much sooner rather than later.
Washington is every bit as good as advertised and more important tailor made for the city of Los Angeles where building out its complex transit system has become a top priority in one of the most congested regions in the nation.
His understanding of urban infrastructure from his youth days in Chicago and the discipline of a distinguished military career has steeled him for any civic or professional challenge. His calm and even keel demeanor are the ingredients that any savvy politician would dream to have.
Washington left the South Side of Chicago and joined the military where he served 25 years and achieved the highest rank possible in the listed ranks in the United States army.
“I had a lot of responsibility at that level, a lot of responsibility for the welfare of troops and their families, so I’m very-very proud of that piece. I was in Denver after retirement from the military for 15 years and while there, we had a massive transportation expansion program and went out for a vote in 2004 for a sales tax initiative similar to R2 here in 2008,” he explained to the Sentinel.
Los Angeles County is number three in the country behind New York and Chicago and a big bump in terms of size and system but a lot of similarities with regards to what both those metropolitan areas are doing in terms of transportation and constructor investments.
“I think there are some basic tenets for regional collaboration. I will seek partnerships. We’re not the big transportation bully in the region, as I see it. Yes, Metro is a large organization, but we must be partnered with CalTrans, with the counties, with the 88 cities that make up the county, with the civic organizations, with the chambers of commerce, minority chamber of commerce and various groups.”
“When I think about collaboration, I think that we must be a good partner and I think if we, L.A. Metro, are to be a good partner, then we must bring those regional collaborations together. I’m not just talking about all the large organizations, I’m talking about everyone, groups that are in the county that have a transportation interest and that are small and minority business organizations, the historically underutilized businesses, that are women owned, veteran owned, minority owned businesses along with the various groups.”
He wants Metro to be an asset to the Sentinel and other urban and community newspapers. “One of the things that I would try to make sure is that (The Sentinel) is on our information list. I would hope that you are sent contract information, for contract opportunities, for employment opportunities and in some way, always knowing what we’re doing. In my previous position, we made sure that the urban newspapers, the neighborhood newspapers were on our list.”
The Crenshaw line is probably the last and the most recent major investment in the community. When asked how he sees his leadership continuing that progress and even enhancing it, he answered.
“We have to be visible on that project. To make sure the project is managed appropriately. To bring this project in on time and on budget, to minimize community and construction impacts, to do all of those things expected of us. I’m looking to enhance what’s already out there, I know how these projects can disrupt communities and we have to be as out front as we possibly can with the construction impacts. I know that Metro has initiated a business interruption program and I applaud that.”
“I think that we also have to continue to show the benefit, the economic benefit of not just the building of this line, but infrastructure projects in general. We have to show the economic benefit because the economic benefit gets lost in various communities, especially communities of color,” he elaborated.
“There is the economic benefit to a developer that may want to put some residential or affordable housing near a station. But, how does Metro show the economic benefit to the young Latino and the young Black kid. Economic benefit means a job to them.
“We need to show the economic benefit at all levels and to all of the communities, but especially in communities of color. What is the economic benefit? The forerunner of the project labor agreement that Metro put together. The first program of that kind was done in Denver under my watch, it’s called the Workforce Initiative: Now or the WIN program. That is where the PLA came from – identifying, assessing, training and putting people to work, especially in the communities where we were building the infrastructure project.”
The forward thinking Washington has already hit the ground running. Before transitioning his family to the region he had already met with public officials and civic leaders to engage about expectations and solutions.
The task at hand is enormous, but Phillip Washington is not just up to the challenge, but prepared to exceed at all levels.