Cuomo’s MTA Power Shakeup Threatens to Upend Transit Comeback, Critics Say

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MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber (right) and Governor Andrew Cuomo lead a tour of the East Side Access station beneath Grand Central Terminal, May 27, 2021. Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor Cuomo’s Office

By: Jose Martinez – TheCity.com

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to shake up MTA brass could throw the agency off-track as the transit system emerges from a crippling pandemic, board members, advocates and watchdogs told THE CITY.

Albany lawmakers initially rejected Cuomo’s bid to split duties currently held by outgoing Chairperson Patrick Foye among two top MTA officials. The plan was revived in last-minute talks Thursday as part of an agreement for a criminal justice bill.

The Assembly was expected to consider the measure as the Legislative session headed toward a close. But the Senate won’t pick up the bill until a later date — stalling a proposed management overhaul that critics said could lead to a heightening of Cuomo’s notorious micromanaging of the MTA.

The last-ditch bid to revamp the transit agency’s leadership structure raised concerns about a potential power play that one top labor leader called “underhanded” and “shadowy.”

“It’s fugazi,” said John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union and an MTA board member. “Any stakeholder here realizes this is not a move that lends itself toward warm feelings about the governor or the governor’s interaction with the MTA.”

Cuomo this week nominated interim New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg to chair the board of the regional transportation authority, while installing MTA construction and development executive Janno Lieber as chief executive officer.

The attempted power shift came as daily subway ridership hit its highest point since the start of the pandemic, with nearly 2.4 million riders on Wednesday.

“Millions of people are riding the trains and buses today and many more are coming back soon,” said Danny Pearlstein, policy director for Riders Alliance, an advocacy organization. “Fast, frequent and reliable service is what’s going to bring people back, not politics.”

Multiple sources told THE CITY that Foye — who was named interim president and CEO of Empire State Development Corporation in the shakeup — was “not happy” about the changes.

“It wasn’t his idea,” said an MTA board member, who asked to remain anonymous.

 

Mayz the Schwartz Be With You

Other sources told THE CITY that Cuomo’s office tried to drum up support from resistant labor leaders by raising the possibility of installing his longtime lieutenant, Larry Schwartz, in a top job at the MTA, if they didn’t back the new leadership structure.

But an Albany source denied that Schwartz — long viewed as Cuomo’s behind- the-scenes enforcer — was being considered for another post at the agency and called it a “straw man.” Schwartz, who most recently served as Cuomo’s vaccine czar, has been on the MTA board since 2015.

“He is the exact type of individual that would trigger a full-blown strike,” Samuelsen said. “That’s what Larry Schwartz would bring.”

(www.TheCity.com)

Additional reporting by Josefa Velasquez