Home MTA Politics Between Cuomo and Walder, a lukewarm embrace

Between Cuomo and Walder, a lukewarm embrace

by Benjamin Kabak

For two years, Jay Walder was literally and figuratively the center of attention at the MTA. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

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.

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Tyler August 1, 2011 - 12:16 pm

Cuomo is a jerk

Scott E August 1, 2011 - 12:24 pm

Has anyone seen the latest political cartoon by Newsday’s Walt Handelsman on the issue of the next MTA chief? (You might need a subscription to see it, I’m not sure). It’s quite apropos.

Al D August 1, 2011 - 12:59 pm

A thankless and impossible job. That organization needs to be re-invented and re-imagined.

Marc Shepherd August 1, 2011 - 2:19 pm

I am not sure what form that re-imagination would take. The main causes of the problem would remain under any structure I can conceive of.

Alex C August 1, 2011 - 3:08 pm

We need a state law that all state representatives and senators need to spend a mandatory month riding the subways and buses in NYC. Maybe then they’ll know what they’re doing as they keep pressing to slash the MTA’s budget.

John August 1, 2011 - 3:36 pm

Yes, and they should come to the city ON THE WEEKEND to ride the trains, and eat their fancy dinner and stay out LATE NIGHT and ride the train back to their hotel.

Tsuyoshi August 1, 2011 - 4:23 pm

I would settle for merely having the legislators representing NYC taking transit for a month. Hell, even just a week. This would be a transformation in itself, as I doubt any of them have set foot on a train or bus in years.

Brandi August 1, 2011 - 3:46 pm

Shame because I don’t think Cuomo really gives any thought to the MTA at all. Did he ever sign the transit lockbox proposal? What the MTA really needs is money from Albany to keep the nation’s most important city moving. Now that being said, I think Cuomo is a skilled negotiator and if he wanted to could get more money for the MTA. He just needs to get interested.

Alon Levy August 1, 2011 - 6:26 pm

Karen Rae should be disqualified unless she can answer such questions as “Why does your agency think 130-ton engines are safer than Japanese commuter trains?”.

Alex C August 1, 2011 - 9:45 pm

Exactly. I don’t want anyone from the FRA getting within 500 yards of the MTA CEO office. The FRA is a pathetic joke of an organization that has kept our railways in the 3rd world. They’re the ones responsible for the rolling abortion that is the Acela Express. The FRA as an organization is beyond incompetent. It’s just too bad it took them 30 years to figure out what the rest of the civilized world learned a long ago; all the new rolling stock purchases by northeast commuter railways over the past 20 years is of the FRA compliant post-apocalyptic bank-vault-on-wheels variety. Disgusting.

Justin August 1, 2011 - 9:39 pm

The MTR, the company that runs public transportation in Hong Kong, is profitable because their huge real estate holdings subsidize the rail operations.

This could be done in NY. The MTA must do more to attract high paying tenants its properties. And perhaps the MTA and the Port Authority should be merged. The Port Authority uses revenue from the airports, seaports, etc to subsidize the path train. They used fees on airplane tickets to pay for the Airtrain. The Port Authorities revenues could be used to pay for a full length second avenue subway (they had 3 billion for a new ny/nj tunnel).

Don’t get me wrong, the state and the city must increase support from their budgets, but using port authority operations could be an essential plan of having funding for future growth.

As for Cuomo, Walder owned him. Since Cuomo dissed Walder, Walder got a much better job, leaving the full responsibility of dealing with the MTA’s problems on Cuomo.

Donald August 1, 2011 - 10:05 pm

There is one huge difference between the Port Authority and the MTA: The Port Authority does not receive taxpayer money. It is 100% self sufficient. The MTA is not. Therefore a merger would not work since the taxpayers of New Jersey would now have to subsidize the NYC subway and commuter railroads.

Bolwerk August 1, 2011 - 11:30 pm

The PA is mainly self-sufficient because it has the means to extort money from bridge, tunnel, and freight operations. In the case of the bridges and tunnels, that “profit” should rightfully be going to maintain city, and to a lesser extent New Jersey, transit and surface transportation infrastructure anyway.

Anon August 1, 2011 - 11:19 pm

The MTA must do more to attract high paying tenants its properties.

What properties? The only space that can attract those kind of tenants is Grand Central. And what does the MTA have besides that and all those little hole-in-the-wall places in the subways?

Alon Levy August 1, 2011 - 11:31 pm

The MTR, the company that runs public transportation in Hong Kong, is profitable because their huge real estate holdings subsidize the rail operations.

Wrong. The rail operations are profitable by themselves; the real estate holdings provide extra profits, and generate demand for the public transportation service.


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