Home MTA Politics Felix Ortiz the latest in a long line of ingnorant New York reps

Felix Ortiz the latest in a long line of ingnorant New York reps

by Benjamin Kabak

Meet Felix Ortiz, Democrat and Assembly representative from New York City’s 51st District. A member of the Assembly since 1994, Ortiz represents an area of Brooklyn that encompasses Boerum Hill, Borough Park, Gowanus, Red Hook, South of Park Slope, Sunset Park, Windsor Terrace and Wyckoff. As a 16-year Assembly veteran, he keeps a rather low profile but was instrumental in getting the nation’s first ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving approved by the state.

This week, he entered the MTA fray when Gotham Gazette’s David King talked to him for an extensive piece on the state of the MTA’s finances. King’s thoroughly examination of the current financial crisis summarizes the various proposals and issues, and it covers ground I’ve been focusing on for the last few months. He did, however, get some choice quotes from Felix Ortiz on the Student MetroCard issue. Take a look:

“Our working and lower-income families will not be able to absorb these additional costs, especially in the current depressed economic state we are in,” said Assemblyman Felix Ortiz. “This cut is discriminatory in that it affects minority communities to a much higher degree. Everyone is entitled to an education; it should never become a privilege for those who can afford it.”

Ortiz said he can’t see providing the MTA with more funding until the agency makes its accounting more transparent. “Until they reveal their two sets of books and say here is book A and book B, we can’t listen to the MTA. We need to fire everyone, restructure and reorganize,” Ortiz said. “The MTA needs to get rid of the fat at the top.

The emphasis in there — highlight to show the sheer ignorance in Ortiz’s statement — is mine. Here is a man elected every two years to represent New Yorkers in the state Assembly, and he is not versed in the issue of the day. He is dragging up a seven-year-old charge, one levied at the MTA by a corrupt state comptroller and eventually disprove in a court of law, as indication that the MTA is not to be trusted or even funded. He wants to break labor contracts and break down the city’s transit system before he would even deign to fund the agency.

If only Ortiz were a lone insane voice amidst a sea of MTA sanity, I wouldn’t be so concerned with him. But he joins a long list of elected representatives — including current city comptroller John Liu, Peter Vallone and Aileen Gunther — who bring up trumped up charges as a way to eschew responsibility over the need to fund the MTA and student travel in New York City. This is a failure of government to an extreme.

At the end of the day, Ortiz’s statements aren’t completely about the alleged corruption at the MTA. No one is saying it’s a well run organization, but they don’t have two books and have vastly improved the transparency of their finances. Instead, it’s about an Assembly representative who won’t find money for student transit foisting the state’s problems onto an easy scapegoat. As the MTA said in a statement to me last week, “We agree that school children should not have to pay to get to school, but funding this service is the responsibility of the State and City. The MTA has been called the yellow school bus for New York City, and that’s a good analogy. All over the state school kids get picked up by yellow school buses, and they don’t pay to ride. But the bus doesn’t show up unless state or local government pays the bus company.”

If Ortiz or Liu or Gunther or Vallone want to waste his or her time blaming the victim, so be it. The MTA will turn to its last recourse and cut the services that matter to these officials’ constituents.

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Chris February 22, 2010 - 3:19 pm

Someone needs to confront these legislators face-to-face and show them this proof. Otherwise, this will continue.

Hell, even if we show them the proof, it will probably continue. They know they can get away with making the MTA their favorite punching bag, strip away their funding, and then get re-elected.

Christopher February 22, 2010 - 3:47 pm

Whose leading letter writing and campaigns against these people and their misstatements? Whose mobilizing against the idiocy? Not just presenting policy, but who’s mobilizing transit-friendly voters?

Scott E February 22, 2010 - 4:07 pm

Do all these politicians really believe the two-sets-of-books BS? I’m beginning to believe they are saying it to appeal to their constituents, fabricating a villain so they can be hailed as the hero that exposed the MTA’s “evil ways”. Then, the “savior” gets reelected.

Benjamin Kabak February 22, 2010 - 4:11 pm

What I don’t understand about this one is that the Gotham Gazette isn’t some newspaper striving for some theory of press objectivity. It’s an organization funded by the Citizens Union Foundation. Why don’t they challenge Ortiz on that statement when he says it?

I could wonder the same of the city’s print journalists too if they’re attempting to strive to report the truth. It’s a bit confounding in that sense too.

John February 22, 2010 - 4:14 pm

Obviously, the people who believe they’re keeping two sets of books will also believe they’re lying about not keeping two sets of books. Including in court.

nathan_h February 22, 2010 - 4:54 pm

Perjury!? Now it’s a real conspiracy theory. Felix Ortiz won’t fund the MTA to carry New York City students to school because he thinks they’re engaged in massive criminal conspiracy, for which they orchestrated a 100% successful coverup in the face of a state court inquiry. I guess they framed that comptroller too—wheels within wheels! I’m amazed that a sprawling organization (that is bad at communication generally) is able to keep scores of in-the-know employees and contractors quiet, for years and under a succession of leaders, about all this malfeasance. Perhaps they’re getting help from the masons?

By the way Ben, great observation about victim blaming. This is very much the same dynamic: blaming the harmed party to avoid addressing the unjust reality.

John February 22, 2010 - 5:40 pm

Yeah, that’s exactly what it is at this point – a conspiracy theory. But the problem with people who believe in them is they can carry that belief to ridiculous lengths.

Skip Skipson February 22, 2010 - 4:31 pm

If only Ortiz were a lone voice amidst the “sanity”,

Ben did you mean “insanity”?

Also would you have a link showing me where the “MTA two sets of books” was debunked, I would like to show it to a few people who still think that the MTA has two sets of books.

Marc Shepherd February 22, 2010 - 4:33 pm

There’s an even more important reason why Ortiz is off his rocker. He speaks as if the MTA were a third-party coming to the legislature for help. But this is not so. The MTA is the legislature’s own creation. The legislature made the rules by which it operates, which it could alter or repeal at any time.

If Ortiz doesn’t like MTA accounting, he should introduce a bill that would change it. If he wants to fire everyone, he should introduce a bill eliminating their jobs. If he wants to restructure it, he should urge his colleagues to do just that.

To issue these complaints, when he is a member of the very body that created the MTA in the first place, and that defines the rules under which it operates, is just loony. He and his colleagues have the power to change whatever it is they think needs changing. They don’t need the MTA to cooperate.

Of course, the legislature does not normally micromanage a public authority in this way, but the point is that it can.

Scott E February 22, 2010 - 4:43 pm

But Marc, it’s so much easier to just point fingers and complain! You’re absolutely right, though.

Russell Warshay February 22, 2010 - 7:12 pm

“He speaks as if the MTA were a third-party coming to the legislature for help.”

Well, yeah. If a politician wants to run against an institution, he has to make that institution seem distant. This isn’t about facts. Its about deflection, specifically a cynical deflection of responsibility.

Russell Warshay February 22, 2010 - 7:24 pm

Ben, don’t just blame Assemblyman Ortiz. Also blame his constituents. They hired him.

Voters are like members of a board of directors. Its not a full time job, and if its a non-profit, the position is often unpaid. Board members have a responsibility to stay informed. Any organization with a board of directors that is uninformed, and that has no interest in performing their duties, will oversee an organization that performs poorly. The 51st District of New York’s Assembly is clearly performing poorly.

Anon February 22, 2010 - 7:39 pm

WNYC News Blog
The Ghost of the MTA’s ‘Two Sets of Books’

Benjamin Kabak February 22, 2010 - 7:45 pm

I don’t have a link to it right now, but the charge was tossed out in two cases in New York State court, one a trial court and on appeal. It’s a bogus, trumped up charge politicians still trot out to make themselves sound good.

Anon February 22, 2010 - 7:53 pm

Yeah Ben,
I tried looking it up in the “NYS Unified Court System – Filing By Electronic Means”
but can’t figure out where to find this court ruling.
I guess if you have lexis-nexis or westlaw it would bew easier to dig up.

Benjamin Kabak February 22, 2010 - 7:55 pm

The captioning on some of these cases is not obvious, and unsurprisingly, the media was far more willing to cover the charges than the resolution. I’ll try to dig up the case later.

Anon February 22, 2010 - 7:51 pm

Makes amNY Top 10 Transit Stories of the decade

A decade in transit: 10 highs and lows – am New York
10. Opaque finances
The MTA cannot live down the “two sets of books” allegations from 2003, when the agency was accused of inflating its deficit to justify a fare hike. A state appeals court declared it untrue, but lawmakers to this day still use it as an excuse to deny the MTA funding.

“You repeat something often enough, and people start repeating it themselves,” Albert said.

Anon February 22, 2010 - 7:58 pm

Controller hopeful John Liu takes flack for ‘2 books’ claim on TV ads

KPL February 22, 2010 - 9:04 pm

For a second there, I thought it said “… John Liu takes back ‘2 books’ claim on TV ads.”

Anon March 10, 2010 - 8:54 pm

He just might be batsh!t crazy

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