Endorsement: Lhota, de Blasio lead a mediocre packBy
Over the past few months, as I’ve looked on with growing dismay at the field of mayoral candidates, readers have repeatedly asked if I planned on endorsing any of the candidates. It’s easier to assess why these mayoral hopefuls don’t deserve a vote than it is to explain why they do, but I’m going to endorse a pair of candidates today anyway based solely on their transit/transportation platforms. Despite some strong transit arguments in favor of some down-ballot Democratic candidates, Bill de Blasio gets my support in his primary, and in a thin GOP field, Joe Lhota should be the voters’ choice.
We’ll start with the Democrats as they present a wider array of candidates and significant overlap in positions. Here, I’ve found it easier to eliminate candidates than to support one, which speaks volumes about their various positions. John Liu, for instance, is still going on about two sets of books years after the state comptroller who initiated the charged wound up in jail and long after two New York state courts failed to find any substance to the charge. He’s also spent years claiming that the MTA doesn’t need more money to provide better transit service and that hundreds of thousands of student rides don’t add to the MTA’s costs.
Christine Quinn, meanwhile, led some pro-transit votes while in charge of the City Council, including a vote in favor of congestion pricing, but during the campaign, her ideas have seem half-baked at best. She wants city control of the MTA but doesn’t seem to understand the costs associated with such a move or the history behind state control. Her Triboro RX SBS proposal seemed careless and haphazardly developed, and her call for countdown clocks outside of subway stations costly and unnecessary.
Overall, the various candidates struck similar themes designed to placate voters without removing traffic lanes: More Select Bus Service routes; more ferry routes; more subway service; no plans to pay for anything. Down ballot, Sal Albanese embraced Gridlock Sam’s plan for congestion pricing and transit funding, but he, unfortunately, won’t garner much support in Tuesday’s primary. How then did I come to Bill de Blasio?
In part, my support from de Blasio comes from an appreciation of his transit platform, and in part, my support comes from the recent StreetsPac endorsement. While recognizing the limits that face the mayor with regards to transit, de Blasio has made more bus rapid transit — a network over which the mayor exerts plenty of control — a centerpiece of his campaign while calling for a new Penn Station focused on the needs of commuters and biking and street safety improvements. His approach is holistic and comprehensive, and while I wish he had expressed more of a willingness to up city contributions to the MTA’s capital budget and some concrete plans for expanded subway service, his plans are the best amongst an uninspiring bunch.
On the Republican side, I am supporting Lhota, a former MTA head, because I too believe trains should stop for no kittens. Need I say more? OK, OK. I’ll say more. The kittens are ultimately besides the point anyway.
Throughout the campaign, John Catsimatidis hasn’t shown any attention to the nuances of transit, and his campaign website is devoid of any sort of issues list. Earlier tonight, he claimed that the Second Ave. Subway “is a disaster” that has “put almost every merchant out of business” and tried to blame his opponent for a project that began in earnest a decade ago. That alone is enough to dismiss his candidacy out of hand, but he’s also spent considerable time railing against bike lanes and trumpeting a monorail that would run alongside the Long Island Expressway.
Lhota, on the other hand, hasn’t run a banner campaign on transit and transportation issues. His website too is devoid of a transit platform, and he discussed removing pedestrian plazas for one. He’s also expressed a desire to remove Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority revenue from the MTA, a highly problematic proposal for the MTA’s budget, but he has proposed a subway to Staten Island either as a carrot for key GOP voters or a future transit expansion. I endorse him here for what he’s done rather than for what he’s said. As head of the MTA, Lhota showed a keen instinct for and understanding of the problems facing the agency. He has knowledge and experience to be a leader on transit if he so chooses.
I wish I could be more enthusiastic about a candidate running for mayor. I wish we could witness a robust debate on transit investment priorities and expansion opportunities. For the primaries, at least, those discussions don’t often win votes or support. So this is where we are. Get out there and vote on Tuesday, and if transit and transportation are on your mind, Bill de Blasio or Joe Lhota should get your lever pull.