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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Cuomo should push hard for LIRR settlement

The LIRR Jamaica station is very busy in

The LIRR Jamaica station is very busy in the evening hours July 8, 2014. Talks between the LIRR unions and the MTA will resume Wednesday afternoon, July 16, 2014, union officials said. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

One day after minimizing the potential impact of a strike by Long Island Rail Road workers, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wisely reversed course Wednesday, saying, "We must do everything we can," to prevent a strike.

It's astonishing that Cuomo -- who is seeking re-election this year -- even attempted to downplay the impact of a potential of a strike in the first place.

"Look we've had strikes before, right, and we've survived," Cuomo told reporters during an upstate stop Tuesday.

"And we've had disasters. And we know what that's like," Cuomo said. "Hurricane Sandy was a disaster, and we've gone through other disasters. This is not a disaster. A real pain maybe, but not a disaster."

Perhaps Cuomo was attempting, in some unintended and for him, surprisingly clumsy way, to give the region a pep talk by reeling out some variation of: Hey, we survived Sandy, we can survive a strike, too.

If so, it backfired big time.

For one, numerous Long Island families still are waiting, post-Sandy, to get back into their homes. So, for them, some semblance of the disaster lives on.

For another, while Cuomo has zero control over the weather, he appoints the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state agency handling LIRR negotiations.

Yet, just as he did with the Long Island Power Authority post-Sandy, Cuomo's spent the past few weeks attempting to separate himself from agencies over which he has control.

Up until this week, that strategy may have been OK as the MTA and LIRR unions vied for best media sound bite in the expected publicity tug-of-war.

But characterizing the potential of a strike as a "real pain" -- and so close to deadline -- was just plain wrong.

No community would remain untouched in an extended strike, with rail commuters jamming roadways along with everybody else trying to get to their jobs.

Edward P. Romaine, Brookhaven's town supervisor, for example, predicted that roads near the Ronkonkoma station -- one site where the LIRR would provide buses -- would be so crowded as to be impassable.

He wanted to suggest that the LIRR consider putting buses at three other railroad stations to minimize gridlock -- but said on Monday that he couldn't get the railroad's attention.

Businesses would lose customers, and perhaps workers who couldn't get in, as part of a ripple effect in local neighborhoods. Elderly Long Islanders could be deprived of health care aides who commute out from New York City.

Wednesday morning, in reversing course on Tuesday's comments, Cuomo released a new statement:

"The Long Island Rail Road is a critical transportation system for Long Island and New York City. We must do everything we can to prevent Long Islanders from being held hostage by a strike that would damage the regional economy and be highly disruptive for commuters."

With that, Cuomo asked the sides to return to the negotiating table. And they did, with the lead LIRR union representative crediting Cuomo for restarting the talks.

It's essential that Cuomo keep pushing.


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