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Senate to block Andrew Cuomo plan to split MTA management, citing 'politicization'

The New York State Senate has rejected a

The New York State Senate has rejected a plan by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to split the leadership of the MTA into two positions. Credit: Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

ALBANY — The State Senate will block last-minute legislation by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to change leadership of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, officials said Wednesday, dealing Cuomo a political defeat.

Leaders of the Democrat-led Senate said Cuomo’s proposal to split the role of the MTA chairman and CEO was delivered too late in the legislative session for sufficient review of such a major policy change. Cuomo sent lawmakers the legislation last Friday and the legislative session is set to end Thursday.

But objections went further than that.

A leading Democrat said senators were concerned about the governor consolidating his power at the MTA, and about what they called increasing politicization of the transit system at the time the race of New York City mayor is in full swing and officials are trying to encourage riders to return to the subway.

"This is a significant change thrown at us at the very last minute and there’s a lot of concern that the MTA has become very politicized in the last several months and a further change in the power dynamics of the agency without sufficient review isn’t a good idea," Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said outside the Senate chamber Wednesday.

Asked to expand, Gianaris said Democrats were troubled by Sarah Feinberg, the interim chair of New York City Transit and Cuomo’s nominee to become MTA chair.

Feinberg has been questioning the safety of the subway and calling for stepped-up police patrols. In doing so, she has echoed Cuomo’s criticism of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's handling of the increasing numbers of homeless individuals in the subway system.

"We have leaders of the MTA [criticizing] the subway system on a daily basis, which is not encouraging for people to come back … in the way that we need because they are trying to make a political point. It’s just not appropriate," Gianaris said.

The 43-member Senate Democratic conference rejected Cuomo’s MTA overhaul, he said.

"We took it to the conference and there was resistance to the idea on many levels — the timing of it, the actual substance of the proposed change, some of the personnel — particularly the nominee for chair," Gianaris said.

"A number of us had concerns with the fact she seems to relish the idea of taking to the podium to score political points for the governor," Gianaris said of Feinberg.

The governor's office didn't immediately comment.

Under Cuomo’s proposal, the posts of MTA chief executive officer and chair would have been separated. Further, the CEO would not be subject to state Senate confirmation.

The Assembly and State Senate would have had to approve legislation to make the change.

The MTA briefly had such a split in leadership positions from 2005 to 2009, until state legislators decided it wasn't working and the positions were combined again.

Cuomo wants Feinberg as board chair, replacing Patrick Foye, who is supposed to be moving to the state's economic development agency.

Janno Lieber, the MTA's chief development officer, would be the new CEO.

In recent weeks, Feinberg has railed about crime in the subways. She argued that responsibility "falls on City Hall," and decried what she called the "mayor's negligence," calling de Blasio out of touch on the issue.

The MTA also has issued statements highlighting which of the candidates running to succeed de Blasio have called for additional subway police, which angered MTA critics.

The mayor has accused Feinberg of fearmongering and carrying out "political strategy dictated by the governor."

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