Home MTA Politics An anti-everything Assembly rep slams the MTA

An anti-everything Assembly rep slams the MTA

by Benjamin Kabak

Meet Janele Hyer-Spencer. This little-known Democrat from Staten Island represents New York’s 60th District in the state assembly. Her constituents from parts of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn and the southeastern shore of Staten Island have competing demands, and she seems very adept at saying no to, well, just about everything.

As far as issues concerning New York City transportation go, Hyer-Spencer represents both the car-heavy areas of Staten Island, a part of State Island with actual rail service and the transit-dependent neighborhoods of Bay Ridge. As you can guess, since she’s now a part of my on-again, off-again profile of politicians who don’t stand up for transit, her record is less than stellar.

She’s in the news today because of a 65-person rally in Bay Ridge that asked the MTA to reconsider cuts to the Third Ave. buses. Since the MTA views those buses as redundant transit options that parallel the R train underneath Fourth Ave., it is planning to do away with the B37, and a handful of handicapped and elderly Bay Ridge residents who can’t negotiate the stairs and don’t have access to handicapped-accessible stations aren’t too happy.

The rally itself was organized by Hyer-Spencer, and State Senator Marty Golden, who recently proposed a pointless Town Hall on the service cuts — but no real solutions to the MTA’s woes &mdash: was in attendance. Coverage of the event was sparse, and we could debate for hours whether 65 people represent a “strong” turnout, as Hyer-Spencer claims. She did claim, however, that the crowd “showed that we will not let the MTA take away this lifeline to our community without a fight.”

So what has she done to help the MTA ensure that this so-called “lifeline to our community” wouldn’t go down without a fight? Well, let’s start with Hyer-Spencer’s biography. Here, she proudly proclaims that she “voting against the MTA bailout.” Why? Because her auto constituents on Staten Island didn’t want to pay higher tolls. I hope those in attendance at the Bay Ridge rally understood that had their gracious host had her way, the service cuts would have gone into effect a year ago.

Beyond that, Hyer-Spencer, in a PDF flyer, has called for the same old, same old. She thinks Jay Walder’s $350,000 salary is too high. She wants the MTA to cut down on managerial compensation. She wants to cut perks at MTA HQ. Unfortunately for her, that’s what the MTA is trying to do, and the agency still has to implement sweeping service cuts. So can we count on Janele to support alternative plans to improve transit in New York City? Of course not!

Two years ago, as the Daily News discovered, Hyer-Spencer would have stopped another pro-transit initiative in its tracks. She was one of the no votes against congestion pricing in 2008, a fact featured on her website. To rub salt into our open transit wounds, she also voted against bus-lane camera enforcement when David Gantt and Co. killed that measure two months after the congestion pricing vote. To make matters even worse, the Daily News highlighted Hyer-Spencer as one of the Assembly reps who voted to reappropriate over $140 million that was earmarked for the MTA to other state causes and later spoke out against the cuts at the MTA’s public hearings. Someone wants to have her cake and eat it too.

Hyer-Spencer joins a long list of politicians in New York State who want to slam the MTA and who don’t want to see their constituents’ buses and subways cut. Yet, when it comes to making difficult decisions that other constituents might remember in the voting booth — Staten Islanders generally do not like the idea of congestion pricing — her support for transit just withers away. So meet Janele Hyer-Spencer, yet another Assembly hypocrite through and through.

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27 comments

pea-jay May 11, 2010 - 4:17 am

I like these profiles, but can you add in legislators that have done the right thing over the years as it pertains to MTA. Surely there have been some… It’ll be nice to know who to support and who not to.

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Benjamin Kabak May 11, 2010 - 8:09 am

Indeed. When these politicians start standing up and speaking out for MTA support, I’ll definitely profile them. So far, we’ve seen nothing of that sort.

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Scott E May 11, 2010 - 8:12 am

I read about the incompetence of our state politicians on here, and have to wonder: why can’t someone with a little common sense get into office? All I can think of is (1) little motivation for someone who is truly qualified to choose to do the job, or (2) There are simply too many districts. #2 not only dilutes the talent pool, but with such a small constituency, campaigning (and consequently, competing for the job and trying to educate the public) becomes non-worthwhile.

Community boards are intended to serve as the collective voice of individual neighborhoods, not state-level officials (really, a STATE-LEVEL position representing just a sliver of Staten Island and a corner of Brooklyn!? it makes me believe that just about anyone looking for a pulpit can get elected to state office. Hell, we’ve even seen, in the case of Pedro Espada, that, allegedly, one doesn’t even need to LIVE in the district!)

I’d much rather see the number of districts cut by one-fourth, and double (or more) the salary of the remaining officials – and attract someone worthwhile. With fewer and stronger cooks in the kitchen, maybe they won’t spoil the broth.

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Benjamin Kabak May 11, 2010 - 8:20 am

The other problem with the shape of the districts is, as we see here, the competing demands of the constituents. Hyer-Spencer is from Staten Island, and most of her transit perspectives make some sense when viewed through the lens of the demands of a typical Staten Islander. But to also tack on part of Bay Ridge puts her in an untenable political position. So while some of this idiocy is definitely her doing, some of it is because she represents two areas on opposite ends of the Narrows with competing demands. Her votes are in Staten Island, and the Staten Islanders will command her legislative preferences.

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Scott E May 11, 2010 - 8:31 am

Yes, I had that in mind also, but my comment was getting too long as-is. If the districts were consolidated (by county/borough perhaps?) that problem would be eliminated. Queens would likely be the remaining borough with the broadest difference in transit/vehicle dependency.

I tried not to attack her, personally, in my message, but rather to criticize the structure that leads to situations such as this one.

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Jonathan May 11, 2010 - 9:29 am

Why shouldn’t neighborhoods have their own Senate seats? The state has nearly 20 million people, so each of the 60-odd Senate seats should represent 300,000 people. That seems reasonable.

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Ian Turner May 11, 2010 - 9:47 am

The issue is one of incumbent advantage. Incumbent advantage exists everywhere but is especially severe in New York State, where most representatives don’t even have to face a ballot. From ballot access to fundraising, every part of the system is set up to favor incumbents over challengers. Some examples: Challengers need three times as many signatures to get on the ballot than incumbents; Incumbents can put up posters on street posts, while challengers’ will be taken down; and Filing deadlines are share with incumbents well in advance while challengers only find out a few weeks before.

Kabak is right about the gerrymandering, but that’s only part of the problem. There are plenty of reasons why New York State representatives tend to leave office only in coffins and handcuffs.

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Alon Levy May 12, 2010 - 3:11 am

The Assembly is not big by the standards of national legislatures with similar electorate sizes. For example, the Netherlands, with about 15% fewer people than New York State, has 150 lower house seats and 75 upper house seats.

Whatever the source of the political problems in New York, it’s not that the Assembly is too big.

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Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines May 11, 2010 - 8:54 am

[…] SI Rep Janelle Hyer-Spencer Masters MTA Blame Game (SAS) […]

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James May 11, 2010 - 9:12 am

Typical liberal

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Benjamin Kabak May 11, 2010 - 9:18 am

Does that mean you think Marty Golden is a typical conservative too? They’re both offering up a grand total of nothing while slamming the MTA. He’s a Republican, she’s a Democrat, and together, they’re birds of a New York State political feather.

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Rick May 11, 2010 - 5:28 pm

Except liberals continue to suck up to the union. Maybe you didnt know that airlines are now going to have an easier time unionizing thus raising fares under B.O. Liberals = love unions. Marty Golden is as conservative as my left thumb.

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Alon Levy May 12, 2010 - 3:07 am

You’re right, Southwest’s unions have made it so unprofitable. Better to just run a non-union operation, like the top-rated, highly profitable Skybus.

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Eric May 11, 2010 - 9:32 am

As voter who is in the Brooklyn portion of her district, I’ve never heard of her until now and all I can say from what I’ve just read and watched on her website — she looks and sounds like a female version of Marty Golden.

The B70 going to be rerouted to take over the B37 along 3rd Avenue in Bay Ridge. The “lifeline” of the elderly isn’t at stake since it will only be a different numbered bus running along 3rd Avenue. So they really don’t have a basis for an arguement there.

Also, both Golden and Hyer-Spencer (as well as most of their constituents) need to realize that the weekend express bus service in Bay Ridge is an absolute drain and waste of spending. A couple of dozen people spread out over two days is not something that should be serviced the way it currently is.

Nobody will ever make everyone happy when it comes to policy, however, when only a few people are inconvenienced at the savings of everyone, that is the right choice.

Lastly, the only signs that I saw for their rally was posted at the Dunkin’ Donuts that receives much of its traffic by way of cars who double park, and not people who use public transportation.

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Marc Shepherd May 11, 2010 - 9:57 am

I believe the reality is that these legislature jobs aren’t all that desirable. They don’t pay well, and unless you’re Sheldon Silver, they don’t have much power either. So naturally, they don’t attract people who have a lot of talent.

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Scott E May 11, 2010 - 11:32 am

That’s precisely why I advocated enlarging the districts, giving more power, and increasing the salary. Similarly, I’d rather have a competent head of the MTA making $350k per year (or more), than an incompetent $100k chief. The savings and efficiencies that a skilled businessman can enact are worth far more than $250,000 per year.

But Hyer-Spencer obviously feels that the agency’s head should come from the same mold as her own: low-pay, low-power, low-accountability.

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Marc Shepherd May 11, 2010 - 1:15 pm

The problem with your proposal is that nobody will advocate it. The members of the legislature will not advocate larger districts, because that means eliminating some of their own jobs. Most of their constituents would not favor giving higher salaries or more power to the legislators, when they have done such a poor job with the power they already have!

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AK May 11, 2010 - 4:08 pm

Not to mention that each senator already represents 300,000 constituents, a number WAY WAY higher than most state senates. It isn’t worth sacrificing democracy for a possible marginal improvement in the quality of our representatives.

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Scott E May 12, 2010 - 8:41 am

Let’s not confuse the state senate and the assembly (which I, admittedly, already did when I referenced Espada). This post is about the State Assembly, of which there are 150 members – many more members than there are in the senate.

AK May 12, 2010 - 9:20 am

And everything I said about the Senate applies to teh Assembly, in that Assembly members in New York have many more constituents than virtually every other Assembly in America.

Joe from SI May 11, 2010 - 3:41 pm

How do these idiots even get elected?

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JPN May 11, 2010 - 4:56 pm

As unenlightened as these politicians are, I feel so helpless that anybody else who thinks otherwise is not electable. I’m unhappy with Martin Malave Dilan, especially after the SAS post, but I haven’t seen another candidate that would be effective, let alone win, in my district.

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BrooklynBus May 11, 2010 - 8:55 pm

I’m not saying that she is right and the Third Avenue Bus should stay, but the fact that the MTA thinks it’s redundant is not enough reason by itself, why it should be eliminated. How long do you think it will be before they call for the elimination of the Fifth Avenue Bus because that one is just as redundant? I bet it happens sooner than you think.

Also, not to defend Golden, but one of his suggestions may actually make sense. I wouldn’t call the Town Hall Meeting “pointless.”

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Ed May 11, 2010 - 9:06 pm

Both of the parties in New York state have a terrible record in identifying and promoting political talent, almost to the point where you think it is deliberate. Add to that the fact that they have succeeded in rigging elections in various small ways (and more than in other states) so that only someone that the party machines are at least prepared to swallow can get in, and you get politicians who sound like idiots when they have to speak on any issue that is complicated.

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BrooklynBus May 12, 2010 - 5:31 pm

I was shcoked when I went to one of the transit hearings and heard some of our elected officials speak. Couldn’t see how some of them ever were elected. Didn’t even want to imagine who their opponents were.

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Tales from the economics of transit :: Second Ave. Sagas October 22, 2010 - 3:02 pm

[…] that the MTA’s cuts violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. I’ve profiled Hyer-Specner and Golden in the past, and these two are offering up nothing new. “Let’s return the X37 and […]

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