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MTA takes mayor for a ride

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks earlier this month. Credit: AP/John Minchillo

Daily Point

MTA vs. the mayor?

Did the Metropolitan Transportation Authority suddenly decide to make a political endorsement Thursday morning?

Not quite.

But Friday morning, the MTA veered into political territory, in a move that was anything but the norm.

First, the authority released a strongly-worded statement from New York City Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg that noted there were five "very serious" armed robbery and slashing incidents in the subway system overnight.

"The responsibility for these vicious attacks does not fall on an already-strapped police department. It falls on City Hall and the individuals who are taking advantage of the mayor’s negligence on the issue," Feinberg’s statement said. "The mayor is risking New York’s recovery every time he lets these incidents go by without meaningful action."

So far, it was a more ramped-up version of what’s been said before.

But then, attached to the statement, was a paragraph marked "Background" — meaning that it wasn’t attributed to Feinberg herself.

"The following mayoral candidates at last night’s debate on NY1 said they would answer the MTA’s call for additional resources to address crime: Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Ray McGuire and Andrew Yang."

It sounded almost like an endorsement, albeit of multiple candidates, in alphabetical order. But with ranked choice voting, where voters choose up to five candidates, that’s become the norm, too.

But that wasn’t the intent, two MTA spokespeople told The Point Friday.

"The MTA is not endorsing political candidates," MTA spokesman Tim Minton said. "The MTA is endorsing … pleading … for the safety of New Yorkers and transit workers who deserve to be able to get to where they’re going safely."

Minton noted that the recent incidents were "crimes of opportunity" that, he said, would not have occurred had there been a police officer in sight.

Added spokeswoman Abbey Collins: "We just want the mayor and whoever the next mayor is, as a matter of policy, to focus on subway safety. That is it. There is no other intention beyond that."

The ramp-up in the rhetoric comes as the MTA is set to resume 24-hour subway service next week and has been trying to lure riders to return underground. And no matter which candidates the MTA mentioned, or what the intent was, the authority’s real target clearly was City Hall’s current occupant.

And Bill de Blasio spokesman Bill Neidhardt knew that, saying on Twitter Friday that the MTA "jumped the shark with an overtly political statement," and noting that 500 officers were provided to the subways already. The NYPD reported later Friday that four suspects were arrested in the overnight crimes.

Collins quickly responded.

"The mayor seems to be the only person at this point who doesn’t see it as a serious problem," she wrote.

Sounds like the real mayoral debate is still between City Hall and the MTA.

On that, Neidhardt provided The Point with a bit of a window into a potential resolution, and, it seemed, an admission that the mayor has a bit of a crisis on his hands right now.

"We only have so many officers. I’m not denying subway crime is a challenge. It is a challenge but it’s not our only challenge," he said. "We are looking to see what more we can do in a smart way that doesn’t lead to gun violence being unaddressed."

— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

Now they give her the win?

For eight years, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has fought to pass a law putting the decision of whether to prosecute most felonies committed by members of the military in the hands of independent military prosecutors, taking the power away from unit commanders.

The primary argument is that commanding officers too often protect their troops from such accusations. But proponents also say potential defendants are just as likely to be victimized by a commanding officer and need an unallied officer deciding whether prosecutions should move forward, too.

But while Gillibrand was pushing that legislation, she also pursued what she hoped would be a path to the presidency by increasing her public visibility and reputation as a leader in the Senate.

The bill went nowhere while the presidential ambition shone, and that could be at least partly because rivals inside and outside the Democratic Party were not looking to give the state’s junior senator a big win. But with presidential politics behind her, at least for now, her signature priority suddenly has the supermajority of votes needed to pass the Senate.

Thursday, Gillibrand posted a list of co-sponsors for the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act — a filibuster-proof 61. That’s what’s needed after twice getting more than 50 votes, but less than 60.

And Friday, Gillibrand staffer Evan Lukaske told The Point that Gillibrand’s "workhorse, not showhorse" attitude is getting the bill over the line, not the fading of her presidential ambitions.

Lukaske said what’s changed is:

  • Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican combat veteran and sexual abuse survivor whose daughter attends West Point, came over to support the bill.
  • A report out of Fort Hood in the wake of Vanessa Guillen’s murder cited a culture of tolerance for sexual assault.
  • President Joe Biden, who has voiced support for the bill, was elected.
  • Senators such as Tim Kaine and Angus King realized that after seven years of asking the military to come up with its own solution, no such fix was coming.

So eight years after she started fighting for it and nearly two years after she dropped out of the 2020 presidential race, Gillibrand appears poised to pass her signature bill in a town where legislative ambitions are much easier to swallow from leaders whose political strivings aren’t the overriding concern.

— Lane Filler @lanefiller

Pencil Point

Being let loose

For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/nationalcartoons

Final Point

About last night

Casual viewers of the first official debate for this year’s New York City Democratic mayoral primary on Thursday night might have found it odd that one particular candidate got part of the spotlight in the always-revealing cross-examination round, in which each candidate got to ask one other candidate a question.

You would expect the feisty questions to be levied on the consistent front-runners, former presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang and vegan, moderate former cop Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

Those two did absorb a lot of incoming — six of the eight questions between them. Adams nodded at the attention by reminding viewers he’d once prophesied that the race would "get really nasty" as candidates got "desperate."

But the more surprising piece of the segment was who got the other two questions: Former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, whose platform is probably the furthest left and who has been considerably behind the leaders in the polls.

The questions for Morales were downright pleasant: Yang asked her if she agreed that "cash relief is a vital part of trying to help people here in New York." Kathryn Garcia, a city administration veteran fresh off a New York Times endorsement, threw Morales a softball question on the subject of the LGBTQ community.

"I know you’ve done so much work in this area," Garcia commented. "What do you think the highest priority needs to be for the next mayor?"

On one level, Yang and Garcia may have been trying to keep things pleasant and highlight some of their own interests. On another, they may have been courting left-leaning Morales supporters, the kind of bloc that likes Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and has a proclivity for the slogan "defund the police."

It’s a bloc that none of the leading or rising candidates — including Adams, Yang, Garcia, former Bill de Blasio counsel Maya Wiley, or even now-embattled city comptroller Scott Stringer — have fully locked up. The city’s crowded field and new ranked choice voting system means even top candidates need to be ranked second or third by other candidates’ voters to win. NYC voters can now rank five candidates, with their successive choices rising to the fore if no one gets a majority.

For that reason, expect lots of maneuvering from the field on second choices as the race heats up.

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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