Home MTA Politics Marking a dubious 100-day milestone

Marking a dubious 100-day milestone

by Benjamin Kabak

Usually, in politics and otherwise, the first 100 days are cause for celebration. For new presidents, those first 100 days provides a time to enjoy the good feelings of the office and a time to push through a legislative agenda. For others, the first 100 days offers up a time for a new leader to shape a company as he or she sees fit. But what happens when the first 100 days isn’t about a new permanent leader but a lack thereof?

Today marks a rather dubious milestone for the MTA for it has now been 100 days since Joe Lhota, the last MTA CEO and Chairman took leave of his office to attempt a run for mayor. For 100 days, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has remained silent on the issue of agency leadership, taking credit for the good while hoping nothing bad happens. For 100 days, Tom Prendergast and Fernando Ferrer have split the duties with the former serving as both New York City Transit president and interim MTA Executive Director and the latter as the MTA Board’s chairman. For 100 days, we’ve waited for signs of action, a task force, anything, from Albany, but we’ve received only silence.

As the days have gone by, a few readers have asked why the MTA needs a permanent — or at least permanent until they quit or are forced out — CEO/Chairman. After all, the trains and buses are running on time, and day-to-day transit services and capital construction projects are moving ahead. What’s the point really? It’s worth a few minutes of our time, though, to explore why one full-time person is better than two folks with other demands and desires.

The first real issue concerns the bifurcated leadership currently in place. Both Ferrer and Prendergast have done professional and thorough jobs leading the MTA over the past 100 days, but the two-headed beast has a history of failure in the annals of the MTA. Most recently, we need look only at the dual tenures of Lee Sander and Dale Hemmerdinger to find conflict and uncertainty amidst split duties. Gov. Eliot Spitzer combined the roles for a reason.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that Prendergast, as both the acting MTA operational head and the current president of Transit, faces a difficult push and pull. The head of the MTA often has to hold off the head of Transit and prioritize accordingly. Prendergast has not, by all accounts, run into any conflicts, but it’s a difficult and time-consuming balancing act. He’s essentially working two jobs while either one on its own is challenging enough.

Meanwhile, there is also the issue of Albany. While Cuomo hasn’t acted by choice, he has not given the MTA a central point person. The Governor’s man isn’t in charge, and Prendergast and Ferrer are essentially holding the course without rocking the boat. Sometimes, a little bit of boat-rockin’ is a good thing for large agencies.

Finally, there are long-term plans that aren’t being realized but need to be considered, and the MTA needs someone in charge with the mandate to see through these plans. The next five-year capital plan has to be developed, presented and defended to the various bodies in charge of approval and oversight. The forward-facing MetroCard replacement project needs a strong champion. The Sandy recovery work and future storm preparation efforts must become an ongoing priority as well. The TWU is still without a contract, 15 months after its last one expired. With interim heads, maintaining the status quo and readying for the next appointed leader takes precedence over any of this.

Maybe the next man in charge is already there. Maybe the low-level rumblings of a replacement will come true. Maybe Tom Prendergast will get the job and the ability to set his own course. But that’s all just speculation. For 100 days, nothing has happened, and the city’s transit network remains in a state of uncertainty.

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7 comments

John-2 April 10, 2013 - 4:36 am

With the TWU contract unsettled, a predecessor who, if not reaching the level of ‘beloved’ was at least considered one of the authority’s more competent chairmen, and a NYC election coming up which also happens to include that person, the upside for a strong administrator to take the MTA job right now is not great.

That doesn’t mean Cuomo’s been working his tail off to find a new leader; just that with the MTA enjoying some relatively decent PR right now, but with potential problems looming and Lhota likely to try and own the recent MTA successes (just as Cuomo has), the upside for taking the post between now and at least primary day ia dubious. You may be waiting past Day 200 before a full-time chairman agrees to take the job.

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Larry Littlefield April 10, 2013 - 7:17 am

What do the politicians want the next capital plan to look like? Non-existant, or 100 percent borrowing. Isn’t the end game deferred maintenance and a return to the 1970s?

Who is the best MTA head to carry out that plan? No one. If no one is there, no one can tell the truth about the non-decision that has been made.

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Larry Littlefield April 10, 2013 - 7:19 am

And by the way, who should benefit as the transit system (and the metro area’s economy and state’s tax base) rot away? Lhota things drivers should get lower tolls. The TWU wants richer wages and pensions. The Straphangers want service increases and fare freezes.

But guess what? The benefits have ALREADY BEEN handed out. Only pain going forward.

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SEAN April 10, 2013 - 9:41 am

Cool it with the doomsday retterick, it solves nothing.

If you want to solve the rotating MTA CEO problem, who ever takes over MUST BE REQUIRED TO HOLD THAT JOB FOR AT LEAST 5 YEARS & truly must be compitent at such a posission. I’m absolutely serious.

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Benjamin Kabak April 10, 2013 - 9:45 am

I’ve definitely gone over this before: You cannot generally legally require someone to be in a job for any amount of time. There can be some limited non-compete protections and economic incentives to say, but no way to avoid someone quitting really.

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SEAN April 10, 2013 - 11:16 am

I understand Ben , but even you can agree that the head job at the MTA cant continue to be a revolving door for something else. I’m just trying to find a solution. If there’s a better way in your opinion, let us all know because the current system doesn’t work & everybody knows it.

Larry Littlefield April 10, 2013 - 11:26 am

“Cool it with the doomsday retterick, it solves nothing.”

It might have solved something if someone had listened and got off the something for nothing bandwagon 15 years ago. Or ten years ago.

Closing your eyes and not doing the math solves nothing either, except that it allows those who continue to take something and pretend it is costing others nothing to keep doing so.

Unless people become outraged at what has been done in the past they’ll not only be victimized for that, but also for what will keep happening in the future. All the same people and interests are still there. And who will object? The permanent MTA chairman?

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