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Meshugeneh at the MTA
Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota’s immediate departure Friday leaves a significant void. For now, it will be filled by MTA Vice Chairman Fernando Ferrer.
And that leaves Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo with an important appointment — one he said will be made in time for the new session of the State Senate in January. The new Democratic majority will want someone who will make promises about NYC transit issues.
Within a few hours of Lhota’s resignation, observers began describing what they’d like to see in the next MTA chairman.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who has taken a keen interest in the troubles of the Long Island Rail Road, emphasized the need to make “improving our commuter rail system a top priority.” With a nod to the Senate’s role in approving appointments, Kaminsky added, “The six new LI majority senators will be looking for a leader who demonstrates a commitment to that goal and a plan to get it done.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with The Point Friday, Amtrak’s Janet Campbell-Lorenc, the senior director for the Northeast Corridor Service Line, said Lhota had been a “great partner for us.” Amtrak, of course, works with the MTA on everything from Penn Station to East Side Access, and in Lhota’s year-plus at the helm, the relationship has had ups and downs.
“We would look for a partner similar to Joe in that it’s someone seeking to collaborate and work out issues,” Campbell-Lorenc said.
What will the governor look for in the next MTA chairman? The appointment will be among the first and most critical at the start of his third term.
During Cuomo’s endorsement interview before his September primary against Cynthia Nixon, the Newsday editorial board asked Cuomo about the potential need to replace Lhota. At the time, Cuomo wouldn’t name names, even asking Newsday editorial board members, “Any ideas?”
And while he’d only say he wanted a “good person” who’s “smart, efficient, effective,” Cuomo did note that whoever took the gig would need to be more than that.
“Someone who’s a little bit meshugeneh, because nobody in their right mind would take the job,” Cuomo said with a laugh.
Randi F. Marshall
Strange times get even stranger
There was something very surreal about the couple thousand people crowding into Manhattan’s Times Square Thursday night to protest President Donald Trump’s firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The same anti-immigration crusader Sessions who has done such righteous liberal deeds as trying to defund sanctuary cities and discourage asylum-seekers.
But these are strange times in America. The reasonable fear that Trump is threatening special counsel Robert Mueller got thousands into the streets on relatively short notice. It led to slightly wonky signs not usually found in such demonstrations, such as one proclaiming, “Whitaker needs Senate approval to be Acting AG,” referring to Matthew Whitaker, the guy Trump picked to replace Sessions.
“Recuse Whitaker,” said another sign. “Down with this sort of thing,” said another.
The mood was mildly outraged, a little more muted than four years ago when thousands gathered in Times Square to express anger about the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at police hands. (Sessions, by the way, loosened oversight of local police departments as one of his last acts.)
Demonstrators chanted, “Love, not hate, that’s what makes America great.”
There was also lots of explaining about what exactly was being protested.
“What happened, did Mueller get arrested?” asked a man who had just arrived, taking an earbud out of his ear.
No, people told him, Trump had fired Sessions, and a guy named Whitaker was in charge, and they wanted constitutional approval for him, and . . .
The guy nodded.
Many marchers seemed motivated mostly by their general opposition to Trump. Someone walked by with a picture of the president’s face with his backside as a mouth. People chanted, “Trump is not above the law!” The comedy hawkers of Times Square tried to sell tickets to the few people in the area who weren’t protesters.
When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill on Nov. 5 to take away the Nassau Interim Finance Authority’s ability to freeze the “step” raises of Nassau’s unions during control periods, NIFA lost a tool that could save the county a lot of money in times of fiscal trouble.
But part of the reason Cuomo went along, even in the face of opposition from NIFA, was strong support for the change from County Executive Laura Curran. Why so?
When NIFA imposed a wage freeze from 2011 to 2014, it saved the county at least $230 million. Much of that came from rookie police and corrections officers being held at entry-level salaries of about $30,000; salaries normally escalate dramatically over the first eight years of their careers. The step raises this bill protects are only the contractually defined salary hikes based on time on the job.
The freeze was particularly punishing for police officers who’d quit other forces — like the NYPD, where their seniority had them earning far more — to get on the Nassau gravy train. They found themselves stuck making too little to pay their bills.
Cuomo vetoed a similar bill last year, so Nassau’s unions came back with one so specific it applies only to NIFA, not other control boards, and only to unions whose wages had already been frozen.
Officials from the county and its unions agree the support was a goodwill gesture to labor as Curran and the unions prepare for negotiations over expired contracts. The change calms the fears of workers while having little effect on the county’s prospects, because no one thinks there will be another freeze anytime soon.