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To Save the MTA, Push ‘Fast Forward’ Ahead Quickly and Responsibly


mta subway action

(photo: MTA New York City Transit/Marc A. Hermann)


The fight to fix our ailing transit system took a significant step forward in May when New York City Transit President Andy Byford released his “Fast Forward” plan to dramatically accelerate comprehensive fixes to our city’s subways and buses. We, along with many other legislators and advocates, praised the plan and Byford’s work to create it. Fast Forward isn’t just a clear roadmap to a modern subway system; it’s also a very necessary roadmap to MTA reform.

Now it’s time for the MTA to take the next step toward transparency as the governor and Legislature begin the difficult work of finding sources for the billions of dollars necessary to pay for Fast Forward -- as well as the authority’s expected capital needs. While Byford estimates the cost of Fast Forward to be $40 billion, it is essential that the MTA provide a budget detailing the plan’s costs as well as its 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment. If state government is to do its job, we need to know what fixing our subways and buses will really cost. Without a detailed budget, the necessary revenue that must be provided to save our transit system will be unlikely to materialize and millions of riders will suffer the consequences every day.

The collapse of our subway and bus systems isn’t Byford’s fault. It is, in fact, ours. Decades of indifference, neglect, and underfunding from Albany has hamstrung our public transit and now threatens to irrevocably damage the fabric of our city. Make no mistake, without public transit; New York City ceases to be. So it is our duty to fix it.

Historically, Albany’s inaction has stemmed in part from the lack of a clear vision of how to fix public transit. Now that we have that framework in place, the final step still remains. The MTA must show us exactly how it plans to implement the plan and how much it will cost.

There have been many ideas for how to provide additional revenue to the MTA—congestion pricing, value capture, a millionaires’ tax, new corporate taxes—but not a single one of these proposals will ever gain enough support in the Legislature if lawmakers are in the dark as to the exact costs of the agency’s capital needs.

Time is of the essence. The governor will deliver the next State of the State on January 9 and the next preliminary budget a week later. The MTA cannot wait until then to submit to the Legislature its capital needs and a budget for the Fast Forward proposal. The costs of Fast Forward need to be factored into the governor’s executive budget long before its release, and the scope and importance of the Fast Forward plan requires that the Legislature is given ample time to review and hold hearings on the authority’s proposed costs well before budget negotiations begin in January.

Once the MTA shows us the numbers, then it becomes Albany’s task to make sure we raise the necessary revenues without unduly burdening already-frustrated straphangers. Unfortunately, Albany doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to securing real funds for the MTA.  The authority’s current capital budget, the 2015-2019 Capital Program, was only approved in 2016—sixteen months late—and of the $32 billion that was approved, the source of most of the state’s $8.3 billion share has yet to be identified. This type of delay and the lack of a clear identified revenue source cannot happen if we expect the Fast Forward plan to be successful.

Beyond submitting its Fast Forward and 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment budgets this fall, the MTA should submit future Capital Program budgets earlier, in order to demonstrate the need for dedicated, long-term revenue streams, the Capital Program should have a longer timeline than its current five years.

This year Assemblymember Carroll drafted and passed in the Assembly a bill, A.11094, which would have required the MTA to submit its capital budgets earlier than currently mandated—but the bill never came to a vote in the Senate. To facilitate long-term planning, the MTA should share the full cost of the 15-year Fast Forward plan rather than breaking it up into the five-year chunks.

The current system of temporary fixes is unsustainable and cannot continue. Without a budget and time for the Legislature to review it, the state will again fail to act on a concrete plan to finally fix and modernize our subway system. There might be some serious sticker shock in Albany, but it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get the job done. If we don’t, then Fast Forward will remain Byford’s dream, while millions of riders suffer the daily nightmare that our subways have become.

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New York State Assemblymember Robert Carroll represents the 44th Assembly District which is comprised of the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Victorian Flatbush and Boro Park. Nick Sifuentes is the executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transportation advocacy organization. On Twitter @Bobby4Brooklyn & @Nick_Sifu of @Tri_State.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

The Real Story of Cuomo’s Dominant Primary Win


Glaser Cuomo

Gov. Cuomo, right, & Howard Glaser, the author, middle-left (Governor's Office)


Findley Lake, in Chautauqua County, on the western edge of the state, is about as far as you can drive from the Bronx and still be in New York State. It’s as close to Cleveland, Ohio as eastern Suffolk County is to the Grand Concourse. Chautauqua is a big county, land-wise, 1,100 square miles -- about 25 times larger than the Bronx. People in Chautauqua are spread out among rolling farmlands and lakes, about 132 residents in a square mile. The Bronx crams 34,000 souls into the same mile. Chautauqua is also about as white as you can get, 94 percent, while the Bronx is New York’s most-black county, with 430 out of every 1,000 residents.

You could argue that there are not two places in the state more separated by geography, racial makeup, culture, and politics. Yet, in last week’s Democratic primary, one thing joined, however briefly, midwestern Chautauqua and urban Bronx: they both delivered overwhelming electoral victory to Andrew Cuomo.

The Bronx went for Cuomo by over 80 percent, his highest margin in the state. Chautauqua delivered 64 percent for Cuomo, not quite the stratospheric number of the Bronx but an even higher percentage than Cuomo’s otherwise crushing margins in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

You could conjure up pretty much any other divide from this diverse state and the result would be the same. Nassau, the state’s richest county (median or family income), just about matched the poorest county (Bronx again) with 77 percent for Cuomo. Union households and non-union households were on the same track, according to Siena’s polling. And voters under 34 were actually more likely to vote Cuomo than voters aged 35-54, confounding conventional wisdom about where newly energized young voters would go (Cuomo won decisively across all age groups).

It’s no secret that Cuomo was backed by New York’s real estate community. But he was equally backed by tenants -- 80 percent of Bronx households are renters. He won those fed up with high taxes in Suffolk in almost equal numbers with tax and spend Upper West Side liberals. He won minimum wage workers in New York City and dominated among small business owners in the North Country, where small businesses represent over 90 percent of total businesses.

All of this in as high turnout a primary election as New York has ever seen.

So what to make of this absolutely dominant showing by Cuomo?

Much of the post-primary press narrative went like this: "Cynthia Nixon lost but progressives won because she moved Cuomo to the left. Cuomo’s margin was due to Nixon being a flawed candidate and Cuomo’s significant outspending over Nixon.”

Those are nice and simple memes, but they don't explain the results in any way. The near run of the table by Cuomo suggests this: New Yorkers weren’t buying what Nixon was selling.

If anything, New York as a whole demonstrated that New Yorkers like their progressivism, but they like it tempered with fiscal reality, with experience, and the desire and ability to find common ground between Findley Lake and Pelham Bay. That’s not what Nixon was selling -- but its Cuomo’s whole brand.

Nixon’s poor showing can’t be explained by being outspent. Money counts most in elections when it’s used to define a lesser-known candidate or a barely-known opponent. The Cuomo-Nixon matchup was the polar opposite. Every primary voter knew exactly who Cuomo was and knew exactly who Nixon was. And Nixon’s campaign wasn’t exactly cash-strapped. Even in New York, $2 million is real money. Had she spent three times more and Cuomo spent a third of his final tally, the result wouldn’t have been significantly different. New York primary voters are as sophisticated as anywhere on the planet. To suggest that only 7 percent of African-Americans supported Nixon because they were duped by ads is insulting or worse. She got her message out and New Yorkers, across the board, rejected it.

Nor was she the ineffective campaigner that she’s widely been made out to be. Her performance in the debate was more than credible. She’s a gifted communicator who produced strong ads. And while her depth on specifics was clearly limited, she expressed a grasp of the issues that wasn’t significantly different from that of the average politician. Campaigns expose a candidate’s flaws, and this campaign was no different in showing both Nixon’s and Cuomo’s vulnerabilities. She made mistakes but nothing disqualifying, holding her own, especially for a novice campaigner. And New Yorkers still said ‘fuhgeddaboudit.’

But perhaps the biggest myth of the primary is the “Cynthia Effect,” the proposition that Nixon pushed Cuomo left. She won by losing, goes the logic, because the specter of Nixon rallying activist Democrats forced Cuomo to adopt more progressive positions than he otherwise would have. The problems with this bit of conventional wisdom are manifold.

First, the polling on Cuomo’s standing with the Democratic left has consistently shown this is his strongest base of support since he ran for governor in 2010. He didn’t need to move left to gain progressive support, progressives have been his for almost a decade. As Siena pollster Steve Greenberg told me in analyzing the post election results, “Liberals like him, they have always liked him, and they continue to like him.” So it’s not surprising Cuomo outperformed Nixon even among the most progressive wing of the party. Siena’s pre-primary poll gave Cuomo a commanding 65-24 lead among those Democrats who self-described as liberal. Cuomo polled identically with moderates, and only somewhat lower with conservative Democrats. In other words, a Cynthia Effect with no effect.

The argument that Cuomo’s support for progressive issues suddenly sprang out of nowhere only after Nixon announced her run is belied by the facts. Marriage equality in 2011, the gun restrictive SAFE Act in 2013, banning fracking in 2014, $15 minimum wage and paid family leave in 2016 — progressive touchstones brought home by Cuomo, all years before a Nixon candidacy was a gleam in the eye of the Working Families Party.

The outcome should also put to rest the internecine divide in the Democratic Party over the question of whether the path to victory for Democrats can rely alone on registering, rallying, and turning out progressives. The theory on the left has been that if the party focuses on turning progressives out in force, it can win without diluting purity of message by trying to win over moderates or, heaven forbid, conservatives. Thus, say some Democrats in the post-Clinton era, there’s really no need to reach out beyond the base, just turn out the base and sweet victory will ensue.

The Cuomo-Nixon primary is the highest profile race to blow that nonsense aside. Turnout in the primary was sky-high, shocking political pros from both ends of the party. Nixon, the “pure” progressive, scored a paltry share of that enhanced turnout. According to the Democratic left orthodoxy, those new voters we saw waxing enthusiastically in Brooklyn coffeehouses should have been enough to hand her a nomination. They weren’t, it wasn’t -- and it won’t ever be. Not in a state this diverse in political and cultural make-up. (And while typically a spike in turnout amid an influx of newly registered voters signals trouble for an incumbent, in this race it appeared to have only further bolstered Cuomo’s margins, another sign of Cuomo’s unusually broad coalition.)

By defining Nixon’s loss as purely a function of Cuomo’s political muscle or Nixon’s inexperience, members of the media, progressive leaders, and others take the wrong lesson from the results. No candidate from the Sanders/Warren/Nixon wing of the party has been able to equally appeal to black voters in Brooklyn, Latinos in the Bronx, moderates in the suburbs, blue collar whites in Buffalo, and farmers in Chautauqua. Without that ability, would-be progressive leaders are talking to themselves. They narrow their appeal while Cuomo, carrying a results-oriented progressive standard cabined by fiscal restraint, reached Democrats across the board.

It’s a big state where diversity of interests doesn’t end at the New York City border. The message for progressives out of this election is not to double down on talking to each other (hello, Twitter) but to talk to, listen to, and persuade the non-converted.

New Yorkers made a conscious choice to embrace Cuomo’s realpolitik progressivism and reject Nixon’s ‘progressivism only for progressives.’ Most importantly, you can’t win in New York, or for that matter in the nation, by utterly failing to win over black voters -- Nixon likely got less than one in ten African-American votes, a shameful showing. She likely picked up less than a third of women’s votes. These numbers should force some soul searching by progressive leaders. “Nixon won by losing” is a useful piece of self-delusion in the wake of utter repudiation. But it’s a complete misread of the lessons of Cuomo’s victory for a successful progressive coalition on a statewide -- or national -- basis.

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Howard Glaser has served in executive positions in the public and private sectors for 35 years. He served as Director of State Operations in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s first term, and spent this past year teaching urban policy at Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College. On Twitter @hglaser1.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

What I’ll Tell My Kids About 9/11


oem ppl

(photo: NYC OEM)


I recently saw the 9/11 inspired Broadway musical “Come From Away.” The show pays tribute to the 9,000 residents of Gander, Newfoundland – a group of ordinary people thrown into an extraordinary situation. Faced with thousands of stranded airline passengers, the people of Gander opened their homes and their hearts to strangers from all walks of life and all religions.

The show was a welcome reminder of the spirit shown by New Yorkers in the days and weeks following 9/11. It brought back memories of New Yorkers lining the streets to cheer on first responders and doing whatever they could to help one another during a surreal moment in our city’s history – a moment when our massive city felt a little more like small town Gander.

As the show brought 9/11 memories vividly back to life, I couldn’t help but note the reaction – or lack of reaction – of many around me. I assume that many in the audience were visiting New York from some faraway place, or perhaps were too young then to now remember that horrific day. While I tried to share in the joy of the musical and the positive story it told, I was struck at the lack of emotion many showed upon being reminded of the horrors of 9/11.

The next morning, I was taking my kids, 5 and 8, out for the day and reflected on the upcoming 9/11 anniversary. I’ve always told them how ground zero is a place that is very special to me but have only shared some of what really happened that day, and little of my personal story.

When my wife asked my son about 9/11, he shared what he knew, but when she pressed for more information, he simply said, “I don’t remember.”

At that moment, I was shaken. I could only wonder if I had failed as a parent. I wondered if I had failed as a New Yorker. And I wondered if I had failed those that made the ultimate sacrifice that day.

My wife insists that our kids are too young to know the details of what really happened, and perhaps she is right. Why ruin the innocence and joy of childhood with the reality of the evil that surrounds us?

knafo idBut, I couldn’t help but wonder. Should I have told them about the horror that we all experienced that day? Should I have told them how the world changed? Should I have told them my story and how 9/11 forever changed me?

How else could they learn the importance of remembering the lost. How else could they know to respect the police, the firefighters, and the EMS workers that keep us all safe.

How would they know that sometimes they should run towards danger to help others? And if not that, how else would they know that sometimes all you can do is try to help in whatever way you can – kind of like the people of Gander and all those New Yorkers who lined the streets to cheer on our first responders.

After 9/11, I used to wear a shirt with the logo “Gone, but not forgotten.” I remember every time I would put the shirt on, I would think: how could anyone ever forget.

But when I watched the reactions during “Come From Away,” I started to seriously question whether many had already forgotten - or worse yet, never known.

But it wasn’t until my son uttered those three words, “I don’t remember,” that I fully realized the meaning of “Gone, but not forgotten.”

Remembering 9/11 won’t just happen on its own. We all have a responsibility to share our stories and to teach those around us what happened when terrorists turned airplanes into weapons.

And as I thought about how we could better remember 9/11, I realized that’s exactly what the writers of “Come From Away” had done. They had told the story of 9/11 and in doing so, had helped to preserve our history. They made sure that we remembered those we lost and they helped honor those that did whatever they could to help.

“Come From Away” was also a good reminder that people from nearby as well as those far away suffered during 9/11. It was a reminder that many, many people have their own stories about 9/11. And it was a reminder that we must always tell the fully story of 9/11 – offering different perspectives, sharing the good, and, of course, sharing the bad.

Telling the story of 9/11 forces us to acknowledge the unthinkable things done to innocent people. But it gives us the opportunity to honor the heroes that raced into danger to save innocent lives – many becoming victims themselves. And yes, it allows us to share the stories of how we came together as New Yorkers and how we came together in Gander – wherever your Gander may be.

“Come From Away” helped me realize that there are many ways to tell a story. And with that, perhaps there are many ways to teach our children – to teach my children.

The irony of passing judgment on the “Come From Away” audience is not lost on me – I was quick to judge, but realize that just because the audience enjoyed the show, doesn’t mean they didn’t appreciate the significance of the story.

As a parent, I want to shield my children from life’s unpleasant realities, but I also want to make sure that their values are driven by our history...by my history.

I still don’t know how or when I’ll share the full details of 9/11 with my kids. My wife is probably right (she usually is) when she says they are too young to learn it all.

But while they may not be old enough to learn about terrorism, they are certainly old enough to learn what “Come From Away” reminded me – how love can, and did, conquer evil – in Gander and in New York City.

I’m going to start by teaching them that lesson.

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Larry Knafo served in the FDNY, was a founding member of the NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and served as the First Deputy Commissioner at the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. After 9/11 he led development of the City’s Family Assistance Center, drove technology recovery efforts, and aided in the development of the City’s Emergency Operations Center.

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