Clifford said he began treatment for thyroid cancer a short time later and while he was out on sick leave, Huggins brokered a deal with Rush to pay the National Black Chamber of Commerce $50,000 to monitor the memorandum.

Rush reiterated the deal in a letter to the commuter rail service, Clifford said. A Metra spokesman said the agency was unable to locate the letter Wednesday.

The check — which the CEO could sign without board consent — was never sent because Clifford required Huggins get the entire board to approve, Clifford said. Huggins did not want that, he said.

"He just wanted me to call Congressman Rush's office and ask who we should write the check to," Clifford said.

Rush spokeswoman Debra Johnson confirmed the congressman suggested that the chamber monitor the flyover situation, but she denied he asked the NBCC to be paid for it.

"The congressman did not do anything outside the normal recommendation," she said.

Huggins said he was "highly insulted" by Clifford's comments and called his allegations "totally false."

Huggins was not the only board member criticized at the hearing. Clifford also alleged that O'Halloran tried to secure a lucrative banking contract for Wintrust Corp., even though the chairman serves on the board of one its subsidiaries.

Clifford also related how Metra's procurement chief Paul Kisielius had questioned whether a conflict existed and his concerns were forwarded to the agency's ethics officer. O'Halloran tried to have Kisielius removed from his position several months earlier, Clifford said.

Metra spokesman Michael Gillis could not confirm Wednesday whether Wintrust actually pursued business with the agency.

O'Halloran denied the allegation.

Clifford also suggested he repeatedly resisted patronage pressure and that no refusal was more damaging to his career than his Madigan rebuke.

The speaker twice asked that Patrick Ward, a longtime Madigan foot soldier, be given a raise on his $57,000-a-year salary, Clifford said. The speaker also asked that another employee be promoted from a customer service post to train conductor, Clifford said.

Clifford says he denied both requests and, in doing so, upset Huggins, who had personally lobbied for him to capitulate.

"Mr. Huggins argued on and on with me that it wasn't illegal," Clifford said.

Madigan has confirmed he made an inquiry about Ward's salary in March 2012 but said he withdrew it after Clifford raised concerns.

Clifford said Madigan never threatened to withhold funding if the raise wasn't granted. However, some board members considered it bad business to rebuff the speaker, he said.

"Both Mr. Huggins and Mr. O'Halloran seemed to feel my refusal to accede to the request could damage our ability for funding," he said.

Gov. Pat Quinn defended Madigan on Wednesday when asked about Clifford's criticism of the speaker.

"Well, I've known Mike Madigan for a long time. I don't think it's any secret that he and I don't always agree on public policy issues. But I think he is a man of character," Quinn said.