NYC: Even hailing a cab drives fierce debate in mayoral race

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Spin Cycle

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For decades, licensed yellow taxis, or “medallion” cabs, have been the only vehicles authorized to pick up passengers who flag them on the street. Livery cabs, however, are supposed to be called and arranged for beforehand — though residents know many have picked up on the spot.

Before Primary Day, however, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration is expected to have a long-sought regulatory change in effect that allows thousands of newly-metered livery cabs to legally pick up street hails for the first time, in northern Manhattan and the other boroughs.

Candidates vying to succeed Bloomberg are clashing over these changes — a tension reflected in verbal clashes as well as the campaign contributions they receive. The scenario shows not only how campaign funds correspond with positions on issues but how political strains can grow from within an industry.

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Most recently, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson slammed late-to-announce rival Anthony Weiner for denouncing the change and for vowing to alter it if elected. “Weiner’s plan,” Thompson said last week, “would hurt minority families and small businesses across the city.” Thompson accused Weiner of delivering “an ill-advised diatribe” at a mayoral forum last week. 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 has 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 it — 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 to $4,200 from those in the livery business.

Republican candidate Joe Lhota also is a critic of the so-called "Boro Taxi" plan, which he believes to be "unworkable." "We can do a better job" of balancing needs, he said.

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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, 2000 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.

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. But when contacted this week, he said by e-mail: “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, although backing the livery expansion, “took the time to listen” to industry concerns, Murstein said, while de Blasio and Weiner drew industry support as its most “adamant” foes.

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