Congestion pricing devices seen north of Columbus Circle above the Upper West...

Congestion pricing devices seen north of Columbus Circle above the Upper West Side street on May 16. Credit: Craig Ruttle

One political question lingered amid the uproar over a new toll on vehicles in Manhattan: Did Gov. Kathy Hochul have any strategy for squelching or preempting the inevitable pushback against it?

If she had such a strategy, it’s hard to see what it was.

Now Hochul faces anger from advocates of so-called congestion pricing, which for now replaces the complaints from a broad coalition of people who opposed it. The announcement that she'd “pause” the toll “indefinitely” reportedly comes as a relief to congressional candidates in the suburbs struggling to uphold the Democratic brand.

Hochul's 2022 GOP challenger, former Rep. Lee Zeldin, said in a statement: “She wants to push back implementation of her plan past Election Day to protect vulnerable Democrats.” Apparently unwilling to let this issue get away, Zeldin and other state Republicans demanded the plan be scrapped outright — which may be where it all ends up anyway.

Even the House’s current Democratic leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, had reservations about the Manhattan toll plan first unveiled in 2007 by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Jeffries, then an Assembly member, suggested he’d consider supporting it — if residents of his Brooklyn district received residency parking permits to fend off other motorists using the neighborhood as a “park and ride” to avoid the toll. 

Since he was part of the Assembly majority that killed that earlier plan, Jeffries clearly knew just how unpopular the proposal could be. Nowadays, as a party conference leader, Jeffries is trying to help win back seats on Long Island and in the northern suburbs that were lost amid Hochul's difficult race two years ago in which she lost ground on public safety.

Some of Wednesday's reaction, as stated privately by Democrats, focused on Hochul herself. Pausing the tolls “is about her political survival,” said a veteran New York City party adviser. “It’s self-preservation.”

Hochul put it this way Wednesday: “After careful consideration, I have come to the difficult decision that implementing the planned congestion pricing system risks too many unintended consequences.”

Unfortunately for the governor, this isn't the first time that “unintended consequences” have grabbed center stage since she took office in August 2021.

Hochul's first appointee as lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, exited the following April after his indictment on federal corruption charges stemming from actions while in the State Senate.

Last year, Hochul’s “housing compact” to build 800,000 residential units over the next decade had to be withdrawn after bipartisan resistance. Under the plan, local zoning laws could be overruled, yet she never forged understandings with local representatives on how that would work.

Last month, the governor had to order an overhaul of the Office of Cannabis Management, where a cluster of unanticipated operational problems cropped up under her appointees. The transition to legal pot was going to be a complicated and difficult mission from the start, but the office didn’t seem prepared for its many challenges.

If the Manhattan toll plan can’t be salvaged later this year, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will need to look elsewhere for big revenues. It would be nice for the public this time to learn as soon as possible of the administration’s “Plan B,” if one is needed.

Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.

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