It finally happened, and we have to talk about it. Last night, shortly before midnight, Anthony Weiner’s YouTube video announcing his mayoral candidacy leaked, and today, his website is up to date. Polling just behind Christine Quinn — though with high unfavorables — Weiner has the name recognition to be a major player in this year’s mediocre mayoral field and a $4 million war chest to buy his way to the top. So how’s his platform look?
Based on the video and early campaign literature, Weiner is running on an appeal to the middle class. He grew up middle class and wants to return the focus of New York City politics to a group of residents who have increasingly felt left out and marginalized. Anything middle class-related in NYC should focus on transportation, and although Weiner recognizes that the subways are “the great equalizer, used by New Yorkers at every point on the economic spectrum,” his proposals do not underscore real improvements. “Modernizing our infrastructure and transportation systems needs to be a high priority,” he says. “In the most densely populated region in the country, we need to look at alternative modes of moving people from Point A to Point B.”
“Alternative modes of moving people” is a buzzword these days for kitschy ideas that don’t solve any real mobility problems, and Weiner’s platform highlights just that approach. First up are ferries. Weiner wants to launch ferry service in all five boroughts — which essentially means bringing ferry service to the Bronx since the other four boroughs already have ferries. “What about Rockaway, Sheepshead Bay, Riverdale, and Harlem? Ferries are good for the environment, reduce congestion, and are vital lifelines in an emergency.”
The environmental arguments are the least compelling; fuel-burning ferries pollute the air and water. But from a practical standpoint, do these areas need ferries and can they support the service? The Bronx is hardly lacking in subways or express buses, and the Rockaway/Sheepshead Bay ferry idea has long suffered from lack of ridership. The idea of a Harlem ferry is simply strange.
Next up, Weiner is proposing something that’s been in the works for years at the behest of state agencies over which the mayor has no control: He wants cell service on every subway platform. It is a tried-and-true voting-trolling technique to put forward a plan already in the works and then attempt to take credit for it later on.
His last two ideas are worthwhile but of a rather marginal impact. Weiner wants to extend tax credits to employers who encouraging biking to work, and he wants to replace Access-A-Ride with 2000 new medallions that would be reserved only for handicapped-accessible yellow cabs dispatched to all corners of the city. A full Access-A-Rode replacement could save the MTA upwards of $400 million annually, but such an initiative would face a steep uphill climb. Additionally, for better or worse, it impacts the majority of New Yorkers only tangentially.
And that’s it. On the one hand, Weiner doesn’t argue for pie-in-the-sky impracticalities as Christine Quinn did when she requested city control over the MTA. He seems to recognize the limits of the office and is planning accordingly. On the other, he doesn’t go even a quarter as far as Sal Albanese does. There is nothing about safe streets. DOT and its ability to dictate bus lanes and speed up the Select Bus Service rollout is roundly ignored. The only nod to congestion pricing is to call it “dead,” and East River Bridge tolls garner nary a mention. Weiner proposes smart parking meters and thinking hard about stemming truck traffic in the form of a “renewed focus” as ways to improve traffic flaw in the city.
All in all, it’s a disappointing early platform. If someone wants to champion the middle class in New York — or any class, for that matter — a grand vision for transportation improvements has to be a part of that plan, and we’ve yet to see that from any mayoral candidate with a real shot at claiming the crown.