Lou Tomson: Getting Things Done?

By Erica Pearson

Before this January, Lou Tomson grappled with transportation and energy issues well away from intense public scrutiny.

Working in the background, he earned respect as someone who can cut through bureaucracy to accomplish important goals, negotiating for the weekly and monthly Metrocards that now make daily commutes easier for many New Yorkers.

But when Gov. George Pataki appointed Tomson president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation early this year, Tomson became a top public official at the very center of the controversy over what should be built at the World Trade Center site.

A Long Island native, Tomson has worked in Long Island and state Republican politics for over three decades, and is a former Pataki deputy secretary. He is a graduate of Columbia College and Columbia Law School.

Tomson, 60, also worked as chairman of the state Thruway Authority and, before joining the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, worked as an executive for Plug Power, an upstate electrical company.

Tomson is close to Pataki, who pushed for his appointment as executive director. Before working for the state government in many different roles, Tomson was a managing partner at Pataki's old law firm, Plunkett and Jaffe.

This May, Tomson announced that a great deal of consensus had been reached about what should be built at the World Trade Center site. But at the major public hearing on July 20, the public reached their own consensus, and told Tomson and other rebuilding officials to start over with a clean slate.

The public largely panned the six plans released by Tomson's organization. The Port Authority's requirements to rebuild all of the office and retail space that existed before the attack have clashed with most people1s desire for fresh, innovative designs for downtown.

Tomson and other rebuilding officials have not explained whether they will be able to change the Port Authority's demands. But negotiating with the Port Authority is nothing new to Tomson. He worked as Pataki's deputy secretary to the public authorities, including the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, from 1995 to 1998.

As Pataki's aide, Tomson helped develop the "plane-to-train" project with the Port Authority and worked with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to introduce Metrocards. Announcing Tomson's appointment, Pataki praised him for being someone who "in short, gets things done."

And it truly is Tomson who may need to broker agreements between the Port Authority and his organization this time around. Earlier this year, the development corporation and the Port Authority signed an agreement to cooperate on rebuilding downtown. The document included the stipulation that if any disagreements between the two organizations develop, they will be sent to Tomson and Port Authority executive director Joseph Seymour.

The two executives then must try to work out the problem together before it is sent on to court.