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Long Island Rail Road president Patrick Nowakowski speaks

Long Island Rail Road president Patrick Nowakowski speaks at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority monthly meeting in Manhattan Dec. 15, 2014. Photo Credit: Bryan Smith

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Daily Point

Signal troubles ahead for the LIRR

There weren’t many surprises in State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s audit of the Long Island Rail Road, which showed a 20 percent increase in the number of trains that were late or canceled, or never reached their expected destinations, between 2016 and 2017. The audit found that the railroad’s on-time performance stood at 91.4 percent last year — the worst in 18 years.

The data might not be particularly surprising, but the timing of the audit’s release is interesting, since it comes just a few days before Long Island Rail Road President Patrick Nowakowski is expected to come before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board to present more details on his performance improvement plan. The MTA’s LIRR committee is scheduled to meet Monday morning.

Nowakowski has come under fire for the LIRR’s poor performance, which worsened at the start of 2018. MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said in January he was “unconvinced” by Nowakowski’s explanations for the railroad’s troubles, and dissatisfied with the LIRR’s “lack of urgency.” At the time, however, Lhota said he didn’t have plans to fire the LIRR head.

But recently, the chatter about a change at the top has grown louder, with a couple of potential candidates emerging from within the MTA. So, even if Nowakowski is the one in the hot seat during Monday’s meeting, he might take solace that the meeting could be his last.

Randi F. Marshall

Talking Point

Cleanup in Long Island’s aisle

There are a bunch of guys named Carl in New York politics, but Long Island met a new one Thursday: Cleanup Carl, a 12-foot humanoid balloon that is part of an ongoing protest over the influence of money in politics.

The balloon was joined by hazmat-suited activists and a punk rock guitarist who are touring the state, visiting GOP state senators who they say are the top five state legislators receiving support from hedge fund donors.

On Thursday, the balloon visited State Sen. Carl Marcellino’s office in Oyster Bay, with a date at Sen. Elaine Phillips’ Mineola office in the afternoon. (The other top recipients were Sens. Tom Croci of Sayville; Terence Murphy, who represents the Hudson Valley; and Sue Serino, who was visited at her office in Hyde Park.)

The main handlers of Cleanup Carl are the Communications Workers of America; the Hedge Clippers campaign, which focuses on money in politics and which crunched the donor numbers; and Mayday America. Mayday was first formed as a PAC by Harvard Professor Larry Lessig to support candidates nationwide, with mixed results.

The bright yellow balloon man is a new attempt to raise familiar concerns, and New York is Cleanup Carl’s first campaign area. (A Mayday representative says the campaign might move to states like New Jersey or Pennsylvania.) The groups are urging Albany lawmakers to close the carried-interest tax loophole, as proposed in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive budget. The loophole allows hedge fund managers to pay lower taxes.

In a statement, Phillips did not address the loophole, but said she stands “ready to work to ensure” that issues like dark money and adherence to campaign finance laws are addressed.

Marcellino’s office did not respond to request for comment about Carl on Carl.

Mark Chiusano

Reference Point

Rebels with a cause

As students across the nation rallied on Wednesday’s #NationalWalkOutDay, we heard an echo from 50 years ago.

In 1968, as the Vietman War raged, civil rights protests continued and efforts for nuclear disarmament dominated the headlines, Newsday ran weekly “Teen Letters” to the editor, giving Long Island’s youth space to express their opinions.

Jeffrey A. Schechtman, 17 at the time, wrote about teen activism.

“Young people are standing before the judgment of history trying to make a contribution to the world in which we live,” he wrote. He encouraged his peers to throw themselves fully into the political process and “train themselves in the techniques of political activism rather than political passivism.”

Today, that activism is alive on social media after the fatal shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and once again we would like to welcome teens to send their thoughts to letters@newsday.com as this generation has its chance to stand before the judgment of history.

Amanda Fiscina

Columns