You say tomato.
I say tom-ah-to.
Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos says his office conducted a poll of Long Island Rail Road riders, which last week led him to threaten to stall a $28 million annual payment to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
I say that having six interns ask six or seven questions of hurrying commuters willing to stop and answer queries amounted to a survey, not a poll. And the survey, in and of itself, provided no justification for hanging on to the MTA’s money.
Maragos, in an interview Monday agreed, not about whether his office conducted a poll or a survey — we’re never seeing eye to eye on that one — but on giving the MTA its money.
“We will be making the payment,” he said, “on time.”
That much came after several minutes of conversation, during which Maragos acknowledged that Nassau had a contractual obligation to pay the MTA, no matter what the results of the he-says-poll, I-say-survey.
“I was thinking about making it late to make the point that the MTA should consider hiring a firm and polling riders to get their views on how the LIRR is operating,” he said.
Maragos’ threat last week to withhold payment from the MTA marked the first time he considered such an action during his two terms in office.
In the past, other Nassau comptrollers — reaching back as far, if memory serves, as Peter King — raged against the MTA for poor station maintenance, which the annual payment is supposed to cover.
Maragos said he used the office’s poll-no-make-that-survey as a way to measure the quality of MTA station maintenance at several railroad stations. To that end, the interns asked 380 (out of 300,000 average weekly) Long Island commuters about the quality of the LIRR’s timeliness, cleanliness and public service announcements, among other things.
Once tallied, the office found that 65 percent expressed dissatisfication with their overall experience riding the LIRR, which is managed by the MTA.
In June, weeks before the survey started — and yes, we’re ditching “poll” — two riders filed a lawsuit against the LIRR over delays and equipment breakdowns. The first week of Maragos’ three-week survey at seven Nassau LIRR stations also coincided with the second week of the “Summer of Hell” — a time when commuters were still getting used to the new schedules.
Was the survey a stunt to draw attention to himself, and his quest to win an upcoming Democratic primary to run on the party line for Nassau County executive?
“It was not a political stunt,” insisted Maragos, who switched from being a Republican to make the run as a Democrat.
So why threaten to withhold payment this year — after years of approving payments to the MTA despite stalled trains, delayed trains, equipment problems and the like?
“I wanted to raise awareness and I think I was successful in doing that,” Maragos said.
Last week, he sent a letter with the survey’s results to the MTA.
Did he ever hear back?
“Yes,” he said, “they said they expected the payment, and expected it to be on time.”