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Cuomo, De Blasio continue to spar over responsibility for NYC subway woes

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was

Governor Andrew Cuomo at the opening of the Second Avenue subway in December.
Max Touhey

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of the myriad issues that have plagued New York commuters lately—the subway delays, the fare hikes, the crumbling stations, and the like—has been the reluctance on the part of either Mayor Bill de Blasio or Governor Andrew Cuomo to acknowledge the scope of the problems.

Both have stayed relatively quiet during the past few weeks of crummy commutes, which continued today after falling debris and signal problems caused delays across several lines during the morning rush. But yesterday, in a piece titled “Cuomo distances himself from the state-run MTA,” Politico reported that Cuomo is now distancing himself from a hands-on role in the transit agency; he said that his part in the ““regional transportation system” “merely consists of appointing a few people to its board,” as do De Blasio and other state officials.

But as many have pointed out, that’s a massive understatement of Cuomo’s role; here’s how Politico puts it:

But in reality, the governor controls the MTA nominating process and has more board representatives than anyone else in the state. He appoints its chairman and CEO. And, the Manhattan Institute's Nicole Gelinas says, “The governor is firmly in charge of the MTA’s day-to-day operations."

Cuomo himself even told the New York Times in December, “You know who runs the M.T.A.? The governor has the majority of members.” So there’s that. (How did it end up that the state controls New York City transit? The Times has an answer for that. TL;DR version, Governor Nelson Rockefeller wanted the state to have control over the entirety of New York’s transportation systems.)

And as anyone who has followed New York transportation news for the past few months knows, Cuomo is quick to take credit when good things happen—see the Second Avenue Subway, which debuted on New Year’s Eve with a black-tie hoopla hosted by the governor himself.

Apparently this was too much for De Blasio; on his weekly stint on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, he fired back at Cuomo’s claims:

That is a fantasy. That is absolutely inaccurate and he said earlier in the year he was in charge and he was focused. So, let’s be clear—there is a division of labor. It’s out in the open, let’s not kid around anymore. If you have a concern—if you like something the NYPD is doing or you don’t like it, talk to me. You like something going on in the schools or you don’t like it, talk to me. If you like something happening in our subways or don’t like it, talk to the Governor. He is in charge. He should just own up to it and take this responsibility seriously and put forward a plan.

Ouch.

Naturally, this has escalated things between the mayor and the governor, who already have something of a fraught relationship. Cuomo’s office has since released a statement to Gothamist, which reads in part:

The Governor has six appointees on the MTA board out of 14—last we checked that is not a majority. [Ed note.: the mayor only gets four.] Also, if the Mayor hadn't repeatedly refused to fully fund the MTA's capital repair plan and short change the subway system, commuters would be in a much better place. Real New Yorkers know we put our money where our mouth is—the state has invested $8.3 billion to fix the MTA while the city only put in $2.5 billion. If the mayor wants to help, let him fully fund his obligation.

Regardless of who steps up and accepts responsibility for the never-ending stream of delays and other issues, one thing is certain: subway riders are the ones suffering. Even though the MTA has promised a six-point plan to address some of the pressing concerns, that will only begin to scratch the surface.

In the meantime, angry commuters continue to blast Cuomo for his non-response: the Riders’ Alliance, a consistent critic of the governor, stated that, “The worst delay riders face today is the delay in Governor Cuomo taking responsibility for fixing public transit, which is falling apart on his watch. As our subway system crumbles, riders want to know: where is the Governor? And when will he come up with a vision for bringing subway service up to par?”