For decades in New York City, licensed yellow taxis, or "medallion" cabs, have been the only vehicles authorized to pick up passengers who hail them. Livery cabs are supposed to be called and arranged for beforehand, though residents know many will pick them up on the spot.
Before Primary Day, on Sept. 10, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration is expected to put into effect its long-sought regulatory change allowing thousands of newly metered livery cabs to legally pick up street hails for the first time in northern Manhattan and the other boroughs, areas underserved by yellow taxis.
Now, candidates vying to succeed Bloomberg are clashing over these changes -- a tension reflected in their public statements as well as their campaign contributions. The scenario shows not only how campaign funds frequently correspond with positions on issues but how political strains can grow from within an industry.
Most recently, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson slammed late-to-announce Democratic rival Anthony Weiner for denouncing Bloomberg's taxi plan and for vowing it would be "changed" if he wins.
"Weiner's plan," Thompson said last week, "would hurt minority families and small businesses across the city."
The Livery Base Owners Association has endorsed Thompson, who answered "yes" in a June 19 forum to the question of whether he'd ever hailed a livery cab. "I'm from Brooklyn," he explained.
For his part, Weiner echoed long-stated arguments from the medallion businesses, that the plan would compromise safety and service. A Newsday data analysis shows Weiner collected $43,105 for his campaign from executives and employees of the medallion operators, while Thompson's total from that group was only $8,425.
Last year, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio weighed in officially for the medallion cabs, who filed an ultimately-unsuccessful lawsuit to stop the new livery authorizations. De Blasio, also a contender in the Democratic mayoral primary, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case and slammed the way Bloomberg enacted the change, state legislation that sidestepped the City Council. Records indicate De Blasio's campaign got more than $78,000 from executives, managers and employees in the taxi industry, compared with $4,200 from those in the livery business.
After the state's highest court approved the plan last month, Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) sounded positive on the Bloomberg plan. "The ruling will mean improved taxi service for the boroughs outside Manhattan, 2,000 new additional accessible taxis and $300 million in the upcoming budget" for essential services, she said. Quinn's taxi-industry take has been about $17,100.
On the Republican side, candidate Joe Lhota called the current plan "unworkable" and said, "We can do a better job."
Andrew Murstein, president of Medallion Financial Corp., which finances cab medallions, drew some attention in 2011 for raising funds for Quinn from within the taxi industry. When contacted this week, he said by email: "The taxi industry is pretty much split. Originally there were many who were supporting Christine, but they no longer are. . . . Many thought she should have made an attempt to block the plan" for circumventing the council.
Thompson "took the time to listen" to industry concerns, Murstein said, while de Blasio and Weiner drew industry support as the most "adamant" opponents of Bloomberg's plan.