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Lauding our region
A room full of supportive voices advocating for public transit, clean energy, transit-oriented development and greater density in housing might seem rare.
But at least for one day, this progressive cult gathered Friday in one spot in the middle of Manhattan at the Regional Plan Association’s annual assembly.
There was New York City Transit President Andy Byford, with grand ideas of how to modernize the subway system. A new “corporate plan” to reform NYC Transit apparently is coming next month.
There was New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy with full-throated support of the Gateway Program, the effort to build a train tunnel under the Hudson River.
RPA chairman Scott Rechler, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member, criticized the MTA for its failings, particularly capital projects that are over budget and not on time. The push for congestion pricing will continue, he promised, committing an additional $100,000 from the RPA to the Fix NYC Transit public campaign.
It was a rare moment without NIMBYs and the trench warfare between mayor and governor. Indeed, Byford noted that he’s asked whether he’s on the side of Mayor Bill de Blasio or Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. His answer? “I’m on the customers’ team, the riders’ team.”
But while the hundreds of RPA attendees sat at the Grand Hyatt, de Blasio was saying on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” that he’d be “very cautious” about providing more city funds to the MTA, even for a half-priced MetroCard for needy residents.
Come lunchtime, keynote speaker Hillary Clinton tried to bridge the gap, applauding both de Blasio’s effort to give every city child free pre-K, and Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship Program for college students.
Clinton, who said she had looked forward to the RPA’s fourth regional plan “the way some people look forward to the next Marvel movie,” criticized the federal tax plan as a “direct attack on this region,” and said the Trump administration should stop using Gateway to “settle petty political scores.”
Clinton even gave a nod to Long Island, calling the East Side Access effort to link the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal “historic.” But she critiqued its cost, saying, “We need to motivate a performance-based approach to delivering on our infrastructure needs.”
Randi F. Marshall
Behind the wage freeze ruling
The Nassau Interim Finance Authority is a frequent target of politicians, but the usefulness of the state oversight board to a county executive was made clear Thursday after a federal judge upheld NIFA’s suspension of raises for 7,000 unionized county employees in 2011.
U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert concluded there was no violation of constitutional rights. NIFA is empowered with the authority to declare a fiscal crisis, which permits it to freeze wages, overriding existing collective bargaining agreements. A state judge who reviewed a challenge on different grounds also upheld the freeze.
On the campaign trail last fall, County Executive Laura Curran said she wanted to get rid of NIFA as soon as the bonds it holds are repaid, which is about seven more years, but she wanted to end its control period ASAP. Her opponent, Jack Martins, wanted to get rid of NIFA quickly and entirely.
But these court rulings are manna for a county executive who said she would try to avoid tax increases and who has to negotiate new contracts with all five unions. NIFA’s power to declare a control period is a key cudgel in demanding bargains the county can afford. The NIFA freeze saved the county $230 million. And it’s not the only court case likely to affect those negotiations.
The county is suing five unions over a memorandum of agreement then-Chief Deputy County Executive Rob Walker signed as County Executive Edward Mangano’s tenure was winding down in 2017. The agreement restored longevity pay taken in the freeze and created a no-layoff clause through July of this year.
The deal could be worth $10 million. Both the unions and the county say there won’t be any significant contract negotiations until the case is resolved. NIFA says it would have had to sign off on any deal to pay out $10 million, regardless of what Walker agreed to.
So once again, it might be the much-reviled state control board that has the sole power to bail out its detractors in county government.
Rudy bites in
State of the Democrats
This campaign season isn’t shaping up to be a walk in the park for Republican Rep. Dan Donovan of Staten Island. If a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee survey of Republican primary voters in April is to be believed, Donovan is down 10 percentage points to disgraced former congressman, felon and MAGA magnet Michael Grimm.
Numbers like that make some Democrats salivate over the prospect of taking advantage of the chaos and flipping the district en route to a blue House. The DCCC included the district in its Red to Blue program, which provides support to particular candidates to take on Republicans. In New York’s 11th District, that support is going to Max Rose, a charismatic and decorated Army veteran who once worked for lauded Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.
But the love affair with Rose has disgruntled some local Democrats who see the improper hand of the establishment intervening in a primary.
In a Democratic primary debate at Wagner College on Wednesday, candidate (and fellow veteran) Michael DeVito Jr. blasted, “D.C. and the old guard, they picked a candidate for you.”
“I am unbought and I am unbossed,” DeVito said, repeating a Shirley Chisholm nugget.
It was an echo of the intramural disputes going on nationally from California to Texas, where the campaign apparatus of the national Democratic Party has sometimes used a heavy hand to guide preferred challengers as they angle for strong November performances. For their part, the unchosen candidates tend to say the party is stifling competitive energy.
The Staten Island debate, hosted by Wagner, the Staten Island Democratic Party, and activist group Swing Left, included a somewhat more kumbaya note: Rose pledged if he lost the primary to “become a supervolunteer” for whoever wins. Which, if Democratic factions followed suit, might be more bad news for the GOP.