MTA board member David S. Mack.

MTA board member David S. Mack. Credit: Patrick McCarthy

Daily Point

Mack’s free ride

Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member David Mack may have lost the fight to stop congestion pricing — but no worries for him. He will still have a free ride over MTA bridges and tunnels, thanks to a program that used to provide free E-ZPasses to all MTA board members.

That program ended five years ago — but Mack and two other board members were grandfathered in, allowing their perks to remain. But even with the free rides, Mack will have to pay congestion pricing charges, MTA officials say.

Thanks to a Freedom of Information request by Streetsblog, we know just how often Mack has been getting a free ride. He used the pass 407 times in a 14-month period, between the start of 2022 and mid-March, 2023, Streetsblog reported.

But Mack, a real estate mogul and philanthropist, isn’t exactly in financial need of free E-ZPass rides. Thanks to his past donations, Mack’s name graces at least four buildings on the campus of Hofstra University, which is honoring him at a gala next month — to be held at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex. Mack’s name also graces the Nassau County Police Department’s training and intelligence center.

And then there are his campaign contributions. Over the years, state campaign contribution records show that Mack donated $29,000 to Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman and gave $5,800 to Blakeman’s predecessor, Laura Curran, who appointed Mack to the MTA board seat. And Mack gave former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo $38,000 over time, too.

In 2023 alone, Mack gave $105,500 to individual candidates and political parties. In 2022, his contributions totaled $196,900.

That total of $302,400 in political contributions over two years would have paid for 43,573 trips over the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge under the current $6.94 one-way toll.

The Point spoke to Mack on Friday, and asked him why he needed an MTA-provided free EZPass.

“I don’t,” he said.

But then Mack, who has served as chairman of the MTA Bridges and Tunnels committee, gave an explanation for why he should have one, saying he examines the bridges and tunnels as he uses them, often going out of his way to see other facilities.

“If I’m doing my job, why shouldn’t I use it?” Mack asked. “I take my personal time to go over the bridges and tunnels on my own time because I’m already in the car. I’m not going to pay or have them take away my EZ Pass when I have to make sure I go over the bridges and tunnels two or three times a day… I’m not going to pay to do my job.”

MTA board members serve in a volunteer capacity and are unpaid.

Mack said it would be “petty” for the MTA to take away his free EZPass.

“I’m the longest [serving] member,” Mack said, adding two different stints on the MTA board. “Be nice and don’t criticize a good thing. And they’ve got a good thing with me. I make things happen.”

Mack said he travels from his home in Kings Point to his office in New Jersey, and back again, but often goes out of the way to see additional bridges and tunnels. Mack, who also has a house in East Hampton, said the last time he used the Long Island Rail Road — whose committee he also sits on — was last summer, though he has family members and friends who use the LIRR.

Mack told Streetsblog he travels the bridges as “reconnaissance” and “management.” But it’s unknown whether it’s Mack who’s actually traveling the bridges when his free E-Z Pass is being used. Mack told The Point he drives himself — and no one else uses his EZPass. But he also said he’s only in New York and New Jersey from Sunday mornings through Thursday, spending long weekends in his home in Palm Beach, Florida, where he is involved in the Palm Beach Police Foundation and serves as undersheriff executive assistant for governmental affairs for Palm Beach County.

Throughout his latest stint on the MTA board, Mack has missed some MTA board and committee meetings, and participated in others via Zoom, which means at those times, he wasn’t traveling into Manhattan for them.

— Randi F. Marshall

Pencil Point

That ship has sailed

Credit: Granlund

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Final Point

Avlon ups his 'ground game' against Goroff

When John Avlon entered the 1st Congressional District primary race earlier this year, he was viewed by many as a creature of television, rather than a stalwart of local Democratic politics.

Avlon’s main opponent in the June 25 Democratic primary, Nancy Goroff, had previously gained the party’s nomination in 2020. And though she lost that race, Goroff has counted on plenty of support in the community surrounding Stony Brook University, where she was once a professor, to provide the margin of victory she needs this time to beat Avlon and face GOP incumbent Rep. Nicholas LaLota in the fall.

Gradually, though, Avlon, a former CNN television commentator, has pieced together significant support among local Democrats, including the majority of Suffolk’s Democratic town committees in the 1st District. With the most recent addition of Huntington’s Democratic committee, Avlon has now secured the endorsement of five of out the eight town committees.

“We’re backing John because he’s the best candidate to take this seat back and help create a Democratic majority,” said Huntington Town committee vice chair Jill Kaufman in a statement released through the Avlon camp.

State Democratic chair Jay Jacobs has indicated that he supports Avlon as the best candidate to beat LaLota in the fall. But perhaps the biggest figure in Suffolk Democratic politics — county chair Rich Schaffer, who is also Babylon Town supervisor — is staying neutral in this hotly contested primary race.

“The reason I stay out [of any endorsement] is so I can bring us together as a party afterwards” for the November election against LaLota, Schaffer told The Point. He said nothing would sway his decision to remain neutral, and he said he had privately told both candidates.

While some Democrats feel a contested primary between Avlon and Goroff would hurt the party in the fall, others say the attention surrounding the race — especially if political newcomer Avlon wins — could help defeat LaLota.

Maggie Touchton, Goroff’s campaign manager, said Schaffer’s decision to stay neutral “is probably for the best.” She expressed confidence that Goroff would prevail in this primary, just as she did in 2020 when she won that Democratic nomination with 36% of the vote against three other candidates.

Both Avlon and Goroff have shown impressive fund-raising abilities so far, and may tap into their own private funds if needed, said insiders. But they added that the key to this race will be the “ground game” both candidates employ with volunteers and staffers in getting Democrats to the polls.

Which is why Avlon’s securing the majority of town committee endorsements is so significant, said his spokesman Eric Koch. Along with Huntington, the other committees for Avlon are located on the East End. Only Riverhead, Smithtown and Brookhaven, which is where Goroff has her base, have not taken a position so far.

— Thomas Maier

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