Home Asides With MTA Chair term nearly up, advocates line up behind Prendergast

With MTA Chair term nearly up, advocates line up behind Prendergast

by Benjamin Kabak

By some counts, Tom Prendergast is the sixth person to head up the MTA in the time since I started this site back in November of 2006. Peter Kalikow was the MTA chairman then, and when his term expired, he was replaced by the two-headed leadership of Dale Hemmerdinger and Lee Sander. That pairing proved short-lived for political purposes, and Jay Walder took over in 2009 after Helen Williams served as the interim head. Amidst tense relationships with both the TWU and then-new Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Walder departed for Hong Kong, and Joe Lhota took over until he ran for mayor. Prendergast has served in the role since the start of 2013 — seemingly eternity for an MTA head.

In an ideal world, the MTA head would serve a full six-year term as Peter Stengl, Virgil Conway and Kalikow did. But the best laid plans often run afoul of politics, and the turmoil at the top has reverberated throughout the organization. Efforts at trimming the MTA fat have succeeded, but plans to, say, bring countdown clocks to the B Division haven’t progressed much. Now, the six-year term that began with Walder’s appointment in 2009 is set to expire at the end of June, and the governor hasn’t indicated if he plans to stick with Prendergast.

In a piece in today’s Daily News, Pete Donohue highlights statements from transit advocates and MTA Board members who wish to see Prendergast reappointed. Gene Russianoff called Prendergast “the perfect transit advocate for a system badly in need of adequate funding,” and others closely associated with the MTA offered similar support. “He’s a serious transportation professional who has brought tremendous stability and a forward-looking perspective to the MTA. I expect as long a tenure as possible, because God knows, as an institution, we’ve been hobbled by a succession of short-term chairmen,” Fernando Ferrar, the Board’s vice chair, said.

To me, it’s a no-brainer to reappoint Prendergast if he’s interested in sticking around. The MTA needs state support and leadership continuity to address a yawning $15.2 billion gap in the capital plan, and the Sandy recover efforts will continue, likely for the next 3-4 years. Prendergast has a good working relationship with the MTA’s unions and, to a greater degree than other recent MTA Chairs, the respect of enough representatives in Albany to be an effective champion for the agency. Cuomo shouldn’t wait until June or later to make a move here, but timely decisions relating to transit sadly do not appear to be on our governor’s agenda.

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Bolwerk March 10, 2015 - 3:43 pm

We can do a lot worse than Prendergast, though Russianoff is, as usual, in lala land. Prendergast has his good points, but AFAICT he is not exactly assertive with the anti-transit-to-the-bone governor. Clearly Cuomo doesn’t tolerate dissent very well because he’s, well, a less blustery Chris Christie or something.

Brooklynite March 10, 2015 - 4:18 pm

What would you prefer Prendergast do? If he stands up to the governor he’ll be out of a job. At least his 33 years of MTA experience make him fairly competent.

Bolwerk March 10, 2015 - 4:59 pm

Nothing magical about that. Maybe Kalikow wasn’t very competent. Sander, Walder, and even Lhota were.

Yes, actually. I wish we had someone who would stand up to Cuomo, and be ready to threaten to resign if the system doesn’t get what it needs. And go through with it, if he must. It’s not a lot to ask that our transit system be financed.

BrooklynBus March 10, 2015 - 4:31 pm

I didn’t realize that Prendergast’s term was interim only to fill Walder’s uncompleted contract.

I hope Prendergast decides to stay, but why would he considering how the governor has treated him? He steals MTA funding and forces Prendergast to publicly state “Our needs are being met.” He suspended subway service against Prendergast’s wishes and forces him to back him. Then he goes behind his back to plan an airport link that Prendergast must also support. The governor has totally disrespected Prendergast. As much as he may love the transit system, he would have to be crazy to stick around. Why should he have the headache when he can do better elsewhere? When he has to go before the cameras everytime there is bad news and the governor announces all the “good news” like an airport extension. Cuomo is fooling no one with his antics and I feel sorry for what Prendergast has to go through.

The result will be that we all suffer. A competent person will be replaced with another political hack who doesn’t know the difference between a subway station and a substation.

Justin Samuels March 11, 2015 - 4:09 am

Prendergast according to others has worked at the MTA for 33 years.

That’s an indication he isn’t going anywhere. If Cuomo wants to reappoint him he’ll stay on the job. Prendergast isn’t someone who has political ambitions. He’s a career bureaucrat, and these people always answer to their bosses (in Prendergast’s case his boss is the governor). I’m sure Prendergast hasn’t taken anything Cuomo has done as personally.

He isn’t Walder, who goes around the world getting jobs at top transportation agencies. Though I think things didn’t work out at MTR, and he left them pretty early.

BrooklynBus March 11, 2015 - 2:09 pm

The 33 years has not been continuous. He does not have to stay. Also, he is nearing retirement age and may already have enough years for his pension depending on what he signed up for.

Larry Littlefield March 10, 2015 - 7:51 pm

I Cuomo really wants to raise hell, he can put me in charge.

I’d only blame him for what he has actually done. As opposed to what was done for 20 years before he got there. Which is a better deal that he’ll probably get from everyone else as things go to hell.


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