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Opinion

Researching MTA plans, Harris' campaign

Long Island Rail Road president Phil Eng hosts

Long Island Rail Road president Phil Eng hosts a Customer Conversations forum in Wyandanch. Credit: Howard Simmons

Daily Point

Reporting for duty

Few have seen the first draft of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s reorganization plan that consulting firm AlixPartners put together and submitted to the MTA at the end of June.

But that report will put a big focus on how the MTA can consolidate and streamline its byzantine bureaucracy. This is likely to include centralizing departments like human resources, legal and procurement, and could suggest moving some areas from the control of the heads of the Long Island Rail Road, MetroNorth and NYC Transit, such as construction and capital improvements. That could fall under the control of Capital Construction head Janno Lieber, instead.

That could mean changes for LIRR chief Phil Eng, at least in terms of what he oversees. But it’s unlikely that Eng’s core job – running the LIRR -- will change. And, of course, Eng already works with Lieber on mega-projects like the third track and East Side Access, so it wouldn’t be unusual for them to coordinate on other capital efforts.

And Eng seems to have the confidence of MTA leadership and board members, too.

“I think he’s capable and he’s doing a good job under the circumstances,” MTA board member David Mack told The Point, noting that the LIRR hasn’t been without recent controversy, particularly due to the concerns about overtime excesses. “I’m optimistic that we’re on the right track.”

Mack said he hadn’t seen the report yet, but noted that potential consolidation proposals could be better for the agency heads, including Eng.

“In anything that replicates services, we can save money by consolidating,” Mack said. “It may mean everyone is going to lose some responsibilities. But maybe that’s for the best, because you can’t be everywhere. When you have too much on your plate, it’s like being a jack of all trades, professional of none.”

Nonetheless, right now, there’s a lot of worry and speculation about what exactly the Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will prioritize. But more will be known in the next few weeks. The MTA board is expected to see the report before its next committee and board meetings – scheduled for the week of July 22 – and may vote on it during the July 24 meeting. The report is expected to be made public later this month, too, though it’s unclear whether that will happen before or after the board meeting.

- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

In her own words

The Point got its 2020-presidential-candidate summer reading started with “The Truths We Hold,” by newly surging hopeful California Sen. Kamala Harris. 

Published earlier this year, the book is a quick read studded with the tropes of the Democratic trail and the usual political memoir non-sentences: “Our team was in it together every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without them.” 

Harris argues that her experience as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general has made her a tough, no-nonsense protector of regular people, from gay couples to those suffering from pollution. It’s an argument she continues as a senator grilling President Donald Trump’s nominees. “Again I pressed,” is a representative transition sentence. 

The book makes the case that a progressive prosecutor working within the system can redirect or soften the system’s blows. But it skates over some issues like bail reform, talking up Harris’ Senate push on the issue but saying little about her support for raising bail costs for gun charges when she was a powerful DA. (Harris’ campaign has noted that this was at a time of high gun homicides.)

For an introduction to prospective voters, the book does not reveal much about Harris’ personal life beyond some moving sections about her mother’s battle with colon cancer. There’s not even much on her sister, Maya, who together with Harris has advanced in liberal politics. And no discussion of former powerful speaker of the California Assembly Willie Brown with whom Harris had an early relationship. 

“I’d been raised not to talk about myself,” she writes. 

That’s a tendency she’ll probably tweak for 2020 -- see her debate story of being bussed to help desegregate an elementary school classroom, an episode covered briefly here on page 2. 

Nestled in the book’s 318 pages are some other interesting tidbits. She talks about former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking whether she was interested in the U.S. attorney general job. She called current rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren “sympathetic and supportive” regarding Harris’ work on the foreclosure crisis. 

And she notes that her choice of desk on the Senate floor was happily close to the candy drawer. Senators, they’re just like us!

- Mark Chiusano  @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

New ticket

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Final Point

Take me out to the ballgame

Only 10 percent of adults nationwide watch or follow professional baseball “a great deal,” according to a Marist Poll released Tuesday. Seven percent say they watch or follow “a good amount.”

The topline number is relatively higher in the Northeast and in suburban areas, and a spring Quinnipiac poll found 15 percent of city adults reported being “very interested” in following major league baseball. But the lack of huge interest more broadly is similar to where it has been in recent years.

That’s a sad state of affairs going into the All Star break, even if the Yankees are doing well. It’s even worse than New York voter turnout. 

- Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

We hope you have a happy and safe July Fourth weekend. The Point will return on Monday, July 8.

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