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Foye stepping down as MTA chairman to lead Empire State Development

Patrick Foye, a Port Washington resident and LIRR

Patrick Foye, a Port Washington resident and LIRR commuter, has led the Metropolitan Transportation Authority since 2019. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Patrick Foye, a Port Washington resident who has led the Metropolitan Transportation Authority since 2019, is stepping down and will be replaced by the agency’s first female leader, the governor's office said Tuesday.

Sarah Feinberg, who has served as interim president of New York City Transit since February 2020, has been nominated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to replace Foye as chairperson of the MTA, Cuomo's office said.

In addition, the agency’s infrastructure chief, Janno Lieber, is slated to take over as MTA chief executive officer. The jobs of chairperson and chief executive officer would be split, after being consolidated more than a decade ago.

Foye, effective July 30, will move to Empire State Development — which serves as a lead agency for a wide range of economic development projects in the state — as its interim president and chief executive officer.

"I know the strong gains we have made will continue under Sarah and Janno's watch," Foye said in a statement. "I look forward to serving … and working with [ESD] Chairman Steve Cohen to continue innovating in support of New York's post-pandemic economic recovery."

The new roles for Lieber, Feinberg and Foye are pending confirmation by the State Senate and the 21-member MTA Board.

After holding various positions in President Barack Obama’s administration — including as head of the Federal Railroad Administration — Feinberg joined the MTA under Cuomo’s recommendation in 2019.

"I am thrilled to be stepping into a position that allows me to continue to play a significant role in how our subway and bus systems operate, but to also have even more of an impact in shaping the future of the agency, and of transportation in this city and region," Feinberg said in a statement.

Feinberg has led the MTA's bus and subway division through the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent months, she has called for stepped-up subway police patrols.

Lieber joined the MTA in 2017 as chief development officer, and has been credited with streamlining megaprojects that had been stalled for years, including the Long Island Rail Road’s $11.1 billion East Side Access link to Grand Central Terminal, and the $2.6 billion effort to construct a Third Track along the LIRR’s Main Line through Nassau County. Both are scheduled for completion next year.

Kevin Law, the Suffolk County representative on the MTA Board, said Feinberg "understands the importance" of the LIRR to the region, and that Lieber saw to it that several major infrastructure projects benefiting Long Island residents "finally" got done.

Law also welcomed the appointment of Foye to head ESD, noting that it could help boost proposed development projects on Long Island. Foye will replace Eric Gertler, who has been interim president and CEO since September 2019.

"Pat did a really great job at the MTA, especially during the pandemic," said Law, adding that Foye led the effort to secure $14.5 billion in federal stimulus funding to keep the MTA afloat amid plummeting ridership and revenue losses.

A daily commuter on the LIRR’s Port Washington line, Foye joined the MTA as president in 2017 after a stint as executive director of the Port Authority. In 2019, he was named MTA chairman and CEO.

While lamenting the loss of a fellow railroad commuter at the MTA's helm, Gerard Bringmann, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, approved of the leadership changes. He said Feinberg could focus on the political aspects of running the MTA while Lieber, an engineer by trade, could handle "the nuts and bolts."

"And the bonus is, indirectly, we get to keep Pat, because he's going to be working on projects that relate to the MTA and the Long Island Rail Road," Bringmann said.

Not everyone celebrated the leadership shake-up. Rachel Fauss, of the government watchdog group Reinvent Albany, blasted the "backroom deal" that she said led to the positions of MTA chairperson and CEO splitting up after being merged by the State Legislature in 2009 in a process that included public hearings.

"In dismal contrast, today’s Albany seeks to nullify that work in secret, with no public debate, no public hearing dedicated to the topic and no opportunity for stakeholders to weigh in," she said in a statement.

LIRR union leader Anthony Simon, who has criticized the MTA for having too many layers of executive management, said he was "fine with the changes" as long as the agency's new leaders are "willing to work closely with labor on Long Island and recognize the tremendous achievements its workforce has delivered."

In his new role, Foye will lead the proposed transformation of Penn Station into the expanded "Empire Station Complex," which entails acquiring the block south of Penn to be used for up to nine new train tracks.

"ESD needs Pat Foye," said Mitchell Moss, director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management at New York University. Moss called Foye a "historic figure who superseded all previous MTA leaders" by leading the authority through the pandemic.

Matthew Cohen, president of the Long Island Association business group, called Foye a "game changer" who "understands our region and knows how to create new jobs and grow our economy."

Gertler, who will continue to serve on the ESD board, in a message to co-workers said, months ago, he "indicated to the governor’s office my desire to return to the private sector to attend to personal and business obligations."

Gertler and his predecessor, Howard Zemsky, a Buffalo developer raised in Woodbury, each declined a state salary and were paid $1 per year. Zemsky’s predecessor, Kenneth Adams, was paid $175,000 in 2014, his final year with the agency, according to the SeeThroughNY database compiled by the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank in Albany.

"As our CEO and president, Eric served heroically, providing leadership and guidance during a time of extraordinary challenges," said Steven Cohen, the ESD board chairman, referring to the pandemic.

With James T. Madore

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