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MTA presentation on Penn takes a page from the governor's handbook

An MTA rendering displaying a possible new Eighth

An MTA rendering displaying a possible new Eighth Avenue entrance for Penn Station. Credit: MTA

Daily Point

Lieber channels Cuomo in Penn Station revamp

For a few moments Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board meeting could’ve been mistaken for one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s famed PowerPoint presentations.

It had all the trappings: gorgeous renderings, big ideas, lofty hopes and grand plans, all about one of Cuomo’s favorite topics — Penn Station.

Even the language of the presentation sounded Cuomo-esque. "This is a transformative project," the speaker said.

But the speaker wasn’t Cuomo – and the setting wasn’t a large room full of real estate professionals or business leaders, as has often been the case in the past. Instead, it was Janno Lieber, who heads the MTA’s Construction & Development arm, speaking at a monthly MTA board meeting in front of a few other authority executives who were present, and the rest of the board and others via Zoom.

A Cuomo spokesman told The Point that the unveiling of plans to remake Penn Station initially was discussed as a presentation Cuomo might have made himself.

"It was considered as a governor event, but the vaccine education campaign and reopening has been front and center obviously," the spokesman said. "And Janno is the subject matter expert, so it also made sense for Janno to do the presentation."

But hours after Lieber spoke, the governor’s office and the MTA put out a press release that made it sound like Cuomo himself had made the announcement.

"Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today unveiled new reconstruction options for transforming Penn Station," the release began.

Lieber was quoted within the release, which included many of the details the MTA executive already had outlined earlier in the day.

In his presentation, Lieber took an approach similar to Cuomo’s, noting that the timing is crucial: Remaking Penn, both above and below ground, is a key to connecting to the Gateway project, the effort to build a new train tunnel under the Hudson River that has gotten more attention recently, thanks to its potential inclusion in a federal infrastructure bill.

But the effort Lieber described went beyond the new tracks and platforms that already have been discussed as a way to expand Penn’s below-ground capacity.

"The tunnel project is getting a lot of great attention," Lieber said. "We know we need to have a Penn Station that is ready to receive that additional capacity when the tunnels are completed, and we need existing Penn to be fully renovated because that’s where the New Yorkers are going to be … We need the plan to include the full reconstruction of existing Penn."

Lieber presented two potential visions of what a revamped Penn Station could look like. One preserves much of the existing upper level, but would turn it into a wide "pedestrian spine," to replace the current mess of waiting areas and confusing pathways. It would also open some of it up in the center to create an atrium-style space.

The other approach would turn Penn into a single-level concourse, eliminating 40% of Penn’s existing upper level, making the lower level wider and raising the ceilings. It would add new entrances by utilizing the old taxiway that hasn’t been used in nearly two decades, while also changing Madison Square Garden’s loading dock configuration, and creating a shared pedestrian space along 33rd Street.

Of course, Lieber’s presentation isn’t the first time a remake of Penn Station has been discussed. Over the years, Cuomo himself has unveiled such lofty plans and bright renderings, too. And the questions that have been asked before are the same ones that remain now: How much will such an effort cost, who will pay for it, and how – and when – will impressive-looking renderings become reality?

Those likely are not questions Lieber can answer. Perhaps Cuomo will.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

Facebook ads return for New York politicians

It’s been a little over a month since Facebook lifted its political ad ban, and in New York that means politicians are back in business.

The ban, in place since late last year, was an effort to prevent misinformation around the November presidential race. Since it was lifted in March, the Facebook ad archive is again a window into how New Yorkers will be targeted as the next election cycle begins.

That includes the Nassau County Republican Committee zeroing in on Democratic County Executive Laura Curran, up for reelection this year, regarding property tax reassessment and the county "hemorrhaging money because of the bungled reassessment."

The Nassau Democrats in turn have run ads praising Curran for the county’s bond rating turning "POSITIVE for the first time in 15 years! The future is bright!"

Embattled Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is a common ad subject, blasted by Republicans from Marc Molinaro to CD3 hopeful George Santos: "It's time for Andrew Cuomo to resign," one Santos ad says. "Do you agree? Let me know below!"

Cuomo himself does not appear to have run Facebook ads off his campaign page since 2018.

The return of Facebook political ads was also good timing for Rep. Lee Zeldin’s nascent gubernatorial campaign. The Shirley Republican has run a host of ads that ask for donations and test out his "save our state" message about Cuomo and Democrats "running New York into the ground."

"Let’s return New York to glory," Zeldin says in one video ad.

Then there is the onslaught of ads associated with the New York City mayoral race. City Comptroller Scott Stringer advertises himself as "a numbers guy" who will be "ready on day one." Andrew Yang wants you to know he was "humbled when President Joe Biden told me ‘you are one of the best big ideas people I know.’" Shaun Donovan, who worked for Michael Bloomberg and also President Barack Obama, leans to one side of that equation online: "I worked alongside Michelle Obama on the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness," one ad says.

Among the swankier mayoral ads are those from former Wall Street executive Ray McGuire, who spent $42,570 on political/social/election ads in the seven days ending Tuesday. That includes crisp videos featuring hip-hop icons Diddy, Nas, and Jay-Z.

"I’m not interested in the crumbs," says McGuire in one ad. "I’m not interested in the cake. I’m interested in us owning the bakeries."

Individual ads like those don’t cost all that much bread, so expect the onslaught to continue.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Justice served

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Final Point

Taking the political temperature for 2022

For those curious about how the new excluded worker fund benefitting undocumented workers will land politically, the Siena College poll released Monday has some interesting insights.

The poll included a question about the $2.1 billion fund pushed by some State Senate and Assembly Democrats in the budget, finding 53% approval for the policy, and 39% disapproval.

Both legal weed and increased taxes on the wealthy polled better. But the fund, which is meant to aid out-of-work New Yorkers who didn’t have access to traditional unemployment benefits, still polled above water. The fund was described to respondents in part as "assistance to workers, including undocumented immigrants."

The fund is structured to pay out a top sum of $15,600 to eligible workers who pay state taxes and have other documentation of their residency or $3,200 to those without equivalent documentary proof of eligibility. The poll found more support for it among Democrats than Republicans and younger New Yorkers than older ones. In addition, Black and Latino respondents were more on board than white ones.

There were also regional disparities: The policy was overwhelmingly supported in NYC, approved by a 5% margin in the suburbs, and disapproved by an 11% margin upstate.

That suggests that, as usual, Long Island might be a middle-ground battleground on this hot-button issue, although in certain State Senate districts it could be even hotter. Some New York Republicans have already seized on the fund as a way to hammer high-spending Democrats.

Meanwhile, advocates in the Fund Excluded Workers coalition are taking a two-pronged approach: creating resources like a website to inform eligible New Yorkers about the fund, and also talking to the public about the fund’s potential benefits.

That second prong was on display Monday in a virtual news conference where economists praised the fund for being well-directed to those who actually need the help during the pandemic since they couldn’t work from home, plus being targeted to those who are "likely to spend it quickly," putting the money back into the economy with large multiplier effects.

Long Island-specific numbers were also highlighted. David Kallick of the Fiscal Policy Institute estimated that 35,000 people would benefit on Long Island, with a potential $251 million dollars injected into the local economy — a key selling point that you can expect Democrats to repeat in the coming months.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano