A brief look at the shortlist for Walder’s replacement

By · Published in 2011

With Jay Walder’s departure date just a few weeks away, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s search committee is hard at work trying to find the next person brave enough to take on the role of MTA CEO and Chairman. Today, we find out a little bit more about the potential candidates under consideration. Courtesy of The Daily News, the list contains the following: Jeffrey Morales from Parsons Brinkerhoff, Tom Prendergast from NYC Transit, Helena Williams from the LIRR, Michael Burns of Santa Clara’s Valley Transportation Authority and Neil Peterson, a transit vet who founded a ZipCar predecessor.

Williams, a one-time interim MTA head, and Predergast are, of course familiar names around these parts, but I’m not too familiar with the other three. I’ll try to prepare some profiles of these potential candidates. Morales and Peterson both have experience with West Coast transit and transportation agencies, and Morales is a former higher-up from the Chicago Transit Authority. At the least, if one of these five is chosen, the next MTA head will have a pedigree of transportation and transit policy, and that’s a step in the right direction.

Categories : Asides, MTA

16 Responses to “A brief look at the shortlist for Walder’s replacement”

  1. Christopher says:

    Only thing I know about Burns is that he was the head of SF’s Muni before taking the rains at the VTA. I can’t remember much about his time at Muni. Although the early 2000s in SF were coming off the turmoil of the automatic control system that led to the Muhi Meltdown of 1998. It also made significant start on the 3rd Street light rail expansion while also the combination of Muni and the Department of Parking and Traffic. Burns is known for being an avid bicycle commuter. And I believe he’s from Boston and as such a Red Sox fan. Peterson I just know from his work in car sharing.

  2. Andrew Smith says:

    They should bring in a rising star from Madrid, Barcelona or some other European city with a world-class transit system that has been recently successful at expanding subway lines at reasonable prices. They should not be considering people whose experience lies in other lousy American systems or this lousy American system.

    Such a person would, of course, have no idea about the politics here and thus would need a NY politics expert as a primary advisor, but knowing the politics of big American transit agencies won’t mean much if the person has no experience whatever with how a truly functional transit system operates and grows.

    (I’d limit the search to Europe rather than Asia because Europe is much more like NY in terms of high labor costs and unions and constraints on management than any Asian country, outside of Japan, which might also be fit hunting ground.)

    No American is a suitable choice without long experience and major triumphs abroad. In other words, this list sucks and shows that Cuomo is either stupid or uninterested in making big improvements to NYC mass transit.

  3. Kid Twist says:

    I nominate you, Ben.

  4. John-2 says:

    Whomever comes in is going to immediately be confronted with the TWU negotiations, so their skill in that front may end up counting as much to Cuomo as their hands-on transit management experience (i.e. — Andrew is going to want someone willing to take the slings and arrows that are going to get throw at him during the negotiations, since for his possible 2016 presidential ambitions, how Cuomo is seen handling this contract battle will go a long way towards determining his viability as a “new way” Democrat in the next 4-5 years).

  5. Andrew Smith says:

    Yes, there are no politics in Europe, so it would be perfectly possible to succeed there without any idea how to play politics. But can we even afford to take a gamble on someone from another part of the country? I mean, New York is so different than anyplace else that we need to keep hiring people whose primary knowledge is New York politics. Look at how brilliantly those folks have performed over the past five decades of running the MTA.

    It would, I now concede, be crazy to hire someone who had spent decades learning, step-by-step from politics to logistics, how to make a massive transit agency run efficiently and expand affordably. You might think such a person could hire individual experts for specialty jobs that required local experience, like lobbying for money in this particular city. But you’d be wrong. Far better to have someone who is expert at that one part of the job. It may only be 15 percent of the job, but a guy who is smart enough to know New York politics will surely be able to get so much money from the state, even in these tough times, that he’ll be able to buy off the rest of his plans. Besides this person can just learn the other 85 percent of the job, the stuff that takes even brilliant people 20 years of rising through excellent organizations to learn.

    Or you could think that God Almighty himself wouldn’t be able to get a hell of a lot of extra funding from anyone these days and that the guy you hired should know something about running a transit agency efficiently.

  6. Scott E says:

    Of course we will have a weak MTA chief. Governor Cuomo’s job (among other things) is to appoint a head of the MTA. The head of the MTA’s de-facto job is to constantly harass and go to battle with the governor for state funding. Cuomo’s too smart to hire someone who is able to bring him down.

  7. Alon Levy says:

    Of the five people on the shortlist, we have one person in charge of the worst-run public transit agency in the US, one person in charge of an FRA-regulated railroad, one person with an experience of wasting money and taking a golden parachute, and one person whose current job is such that he benefits from higher construction costs.

    By elimination, the only reasonable choice is Prendergast.

    • Alex C says:

      This makes me feel very comfortable about the MTA’s future. We’re doomed. If the SAS ever makes it to 125 St I’ll be shocked at this point.

  8. petey says:

    “I’m too familiar with the other three.”

    well that’ll just lead to contempt.

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