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A plea to save the MTA

An MTA worker wears personal protective equipment at

An MTA worker wears personal protective equipment at the Grand Army Plaza station on April 7, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

Daily Point

New York’s GOP officials advocate for MTA aid

It’s been a full-court press as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority fights for an additional $3.9 billion of federal money that the agency needs to plug its enormous budget hole left in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The latest ask, however, was a bit more unusual, as a contingent of New York’s Republican elected officials sent a letter Thursday directly to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“As proud New York Republicans, we are writing to make the case for significant additional federal funding for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA),” the letter began.

“A failing MTA will be a huge blow not just to New York, but the country as a whole as it seeks to rebound economically from the COVID-19 global pandemic,” the letter continued.

Notable about the letter, too, is how the New York Republican scene has shifted. Eighteen Republicans signed the letter, including Long Island Reps. Pete King and Lee Zeldin, and upstate Rep. Elise Stefanik. But to get the robust list, signatories also included county executives from Rockland, Dutchess and Orange, state senators like John Flanagan and Phil Boyle, and several Assembly members and New York City council members. 

MTA officials regularly have pushed for their latest funding request  — which comes on top of the initial $3.8 billion allocated to the agency in April  — as the agency has begun its efforts to ramp up service, but it continues to suffer from low ridership. And Democratic leaders, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, have been supportive.

King told The Point that the GOP letter emerged after continued conversations with the MTA.

“We thought it was important ... to make sure McConnell knows all the leading Republicans in New York want this also,” King said. “First, this is not a Republican/Democrat issue. Second, the economy in New York is dependent on mass transit and the economy of the country depends on New York. It goes beyond narrow interests. This is a national issue.”

Indeed, the GOP letter tries to appeal to McConnell by linking the MTA with the national recovery, and noting the authority’s connections to and its use of vendors based in states like Texas, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, Iowa, Illinois and New Jersey.

“The bottom line is that the MTA is too important  — to the country, not just to New York  — to be left for dead,” the letter said.

The question is whether New York’s GOP voice will be strong enough and loud enough for McConnell to heed.

King, for one, thinks it’ll work.

“I think we have a good shot,” he said.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

Big money at play in CD1, CD2 primaries

New campaign finance filings show tight money races in the CD1 Democratic and CD2 Republican primaries. 

In CD1, Stony Brook scientist Nancy Goroff and businessman Perry Gershon called in air support from their personal bank accounts, with Goroff loaning her campaign a million dollars and Gershon kicking in $275,000 down the stretch.

Outside of her loan, Goroff’s $233,602 raised between April 1 and June 3 was the most among her fellow Democrats during that period, with Fleming just behind at $216,569.

Suffolk County Legis. Bridget Fleming, however, had the least cash on hand of the big three with $111,827, which includes general election money that can't be used right now.

All three campaigns had something to celebrate this week, with Fleming touting the endorsement of actor Alec Baldwin, and Goroff and Gershon registering neck-and-neck in an internal Goroff poll from Global Strategy Group reported by Politico. It found Gershon at 29 percent, Goroff at 27, and Fleming at 17, with a 4.9 % margin of error. 

Yet Rep. Lee Zeldin stands tall as the future opponent for the Democratic winner, having outpaced them all for that April 1-to-June 3 filing by logging $577,934 in receipts. 

Over in CD2, State Assemb. Andrew Garbarino was able to outraise his Republican primary opponent and fellow Assemb. Mike LiPetri, $63,034 to $45,108 for that period. But that sum for Garbarino, who has the local party endorsements and nods of area congressmen, included $31,500 from political committees such as the American Dental Association PAC and New York Life Insurance Company PAC.

Garbarino said the PAC money came from local business owners reaching out to their federal groups to request the money. 

Regardless, Democrat Jackie Gordon was far ahead in receipts, logging $310,588 in the pre-primary filing, setting up a big fight for Rep. Pete King’s seat in the fall.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Sour grapes

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Final Point

A different strategy for Penn Station

Not long before the coronavirus struck, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a big and expensive new plan to improve Penn Station: add tracks, improve access for tens of thousands of riders, and demolish an entire city block. 

Urbanist Adrian Untermyer has a simpler idea to improve the abysmal transportation hub, and he says it would take weeks. 

In short: Briefly close down Penn Station. Clean up the infrastructure and add new paint. And use signs to reorganize the layout, recreating the original “processional” of historic Penn Station, where you entered on one level to go to trains and exited on the other. 

These are some of the broad strokes of the “Penn Central” plan Untermyer released during a January lecture at Federal Hall in Manhattan. But now Untermyer, who was named an “Emerging Leader in Transportation” by NYU’s Rudin Center in 2015, thinks his ideas are even more crucial given the pandemic.

There’s not exactly much traffic in Penn Station these days, so it’s “the perfect time” to make changes. The one-way layout would be more “hygienic” and would create less crowding. And making facilities like Penn more healthy will be important going forward: "This is not going to be the last virus,” Untermyer told The Point.

Untermyer re-upped his idea again in a Zoom happy hour last week with the New York Preservation Archive Project. 

Untermyer has served as deputy director of the Historic Districts Council, a preservation-focused nonprofit. He once played in a Melville wedding band — he fused his musical and transportation interests with a piano installation project in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. 

Untermyer has a creative plan for that other hell-hole of New York, too, transforming it into a largely outdoor bus terminal. That has obvious benefits in the age of coronavirus, too. In Penn, his other plans would redesignate tracks to help Penn serve more as a station where trains travel through rather than as a terminal where they dead-end. 

Untermyer says he reached out to state and Port Authority officials about his idea in pre-pandemic days, and the agency confirmed it had received his comments as part of a public-outreach process last summer. 

See the idea for yourself here.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano