Elliot Sander, the MTA’s current CEO and executive director, hasn’t had an easy go of things over the last two years. As the economy has crashed, Sander, one of the foremost experts on transit policy, has battled a state too stingy to issue adequate funding for mass transit while overseeing a system taxed to capacity and in need of expansion.
In March, while battling debt problems that could shake the MTA to its financial core, Sander showed that he had not lost sight of the future. During his first annual State of the MTA, Sander unveiled a set of very ambitious expansion plans. While the MTA is unlikely to realize the totality of this plan, Sander’s vision showed that the current MTA leadership is looking ahead while dealing with unmanageable problems in the present. Gone are the days of Peter Kalikow.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I happened upon this piece on Newsday’s Viewsday blog. State Senator John Flanagan, a Republican from East Northport, has issued a vote of no confidence in Sander. Anne Michaud, a member of the Long Island paper’s opinions staff, writes:
In a recent meeting with Newsday’s editorial board, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), said that Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief executive Elliot Sander should not keep his job. The senator was responding to a question about whether Sander is working out, after nearly two years at the helm. Flanagan said, “No. [But] that’s a management decision for the MTA board.”
…Flanagan said he does not think the MTA has made the case for more public money to fund its capital plan, which at last estimate came in at around $30 billion. The senator contrasted the MTA with the Port Authority, whose new director, Christopher Ward, is a “breath of fresh air.” In the interview, Flanagan, a member of the MTA Capital Program Review Board, also knocked Ward’s predecessor, Anthony Shorris, as “a disgrace.”
It’s really tough for me to imagine which political reality Flanagan currently occupies. Time and again, Sander has made the case in public for more state contributions to the MTA’s budget. Time and again, he has been rebuffed by the same state legislative body of which Flanagan is a member. Elliot Sander and the MTA don’t want to have to raise fares every two years, but the state has left them with no choice.
I can imagine a not-too-distant future in which more state representatives start dumping on Sander. After all, it’s much easier to blame the guy in charge of the MTA for the authority’s problems than it is to admit to your constituents that you, their elected State Senator, is responsible for yet another fare hike because you opted against congestion pricing, real enforcement of bus rapid transit lanes or any number of measures that would beef up transportation in the New York Metropolitan Area.
I’m sure there are ways in which Sander could be doing better, but considering all he has to deal with and what little he has to work with, Sander remains the right man for the job. Flanagan, a member of the State Senate committee that sunk congestion pricing, has long wanted to overhaul MTA oversight, and his position on the CPRB allows him to do just that. But by undermining Sander’s authority in an appropriate way, he is clearly missing the mark.