The week of Jay Walder has continued into August as civic leaders and politicians are still coming to grips with Waler’s departure. The biggest news came from a Times article published on Saturday that illuminated Walder’s motivations for leaving.
As I’ve heard from the beginning, much of the impetus behind the MTA CEO and Chairman’s decision came about because of money and circumstances. The MTR offer simply overwhelmed his current MTA salary, and he had grown tired of politicians who would use the MTA as their personal whipping boy without offering political or fiscal stability. But our new Governor, who hasn’t embraced transit and never warmed to Walder, had much to do with it as well.
Michael Grynbaum and Christine Haughney report:
Jay H. Walder, chairman of the embattled Metropolitan Transportation Authority, traveled to Albany earlier this year seeking help for a transit system in peril. Mr. Walder, a kid from Queens who rose to the top of his field and harbored big ambitions for his state, was not unlike the man he had hoped to see: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
And he did see him. For a moment.
Mr. Walder was meeting the governor’s staff at the Capitol when Mr. Cuomo walked in. The governor greeted Mr. Walder, then promptly turned his attention to his director of state operations, Howard Glaser, with whom he spoke for several moments before departing, said two people familiar with the meeting. Mr. Cuomo and the man in charge of the biggest mass transit system in the nation did not meet in person again, suggesting a lack of interest by Mr. Cuomo that irked and discouraged Mr. Walder, several officials said.
The Times notes that Cuomo was “caught…by surprise” by Walder’s departure and “had no plans” to replace him before his term expired. Yet, still, Cuomo reportedly shunned Walder and has garnered more headlines for his collection of muscle cars than he has his support of transit.
During his campaign last year, Gov. Cuomo vowed to stand behind the MTA. “I believe the governor should be accountable for the MTA,” he said in October. “These authorities that are often nameless and faceless–I understand the theory behind an authority. I also understand the theory behind accountability. In a situation like the MTA. I think that people have the right to know who’s in charge, who’s responsible and I think it should be the governor of the state.”
Now, Cuomo can put his money where his mouth is, and he will have some fight on his hands. The Times has urged him to avoid naming a political friend as head of the MTA and urged him to find someone who will “provide the best service for 8.5 million commuters.” Crain’s New York suggests two women for the job: either Karen Rae, currently with the Federal Railroad Administration, or Polly Trottenberg, assistant secretary for transportation policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation who once worked for Senator Chuck Schumer.
No matter who Cuomo picks, the next MTA head will have to negotiation with the labor unions, deal with fare hikes and debt levels and confront a system that must move forward with its capital plans as money grows ever tighter. It’s an unenviable job, and the number of people qualified to take it are quickly dwindling. Soon, Cuomo will have to name a replacement. For now, though, we’ll continue to find out just how the governor’s lukewarm embrace of the MTA head helped push him toward a decision to depart.