On Sunday morning Mayor Bill de Blasio ventured into the subway, a place where Governor Andrew Cuomo has not been for nearly seven months, with a simple message. “The governor names the head of the MTA and has effective control of the MTA,” de Blasio told the dozens of reporters who jammed into his F train car at 4th Avenue/9th Street. “The governor should step up and say once again, he’s responsible, because he seems to change that message every week or two whether he’s responsible or not. He’s responsible! It’s clear! Just take ownership and fix the problem.”
Seven weeks ago on WNYC, the mayor derided these kinds of public displays of straphanger empathy and environmental prudence as “cheap symbolism,” but that was before track fires, trapped trains, and cascading, seemingly endless delays turned the daily routines of nearly six million people into waking nightmares.
The final straw for the mayor might have come on Thursday, when the leader of the MTA, Chairman Joe Lhota, held a press conference at MTA headquarters and repeated what the man who appointed him, Governor Cuomo, has said at various stages of his tenure as governor: don’t blame the state for the MTA’s problems.
Cuomo, who once shut down the subways without telling the mayor, and who declared a "state of emergency" in the subways a month ago, was now saying that the mess was de Blasio’s to clean up.
Asked on the train if Cuomo was lying to New Yorkers, de Blasio replied that “he needs to take responsibility for the MTA.”
“He’s done it at different points, he was certainly doing it on New Year’s Eve, he should just do it again,” the mayor said, referring to the party Cuomo threw at the opening of the Second Avenue Subway after weeks of public pressure from the governor’s office to finish the work on time.
While Lhota signaled that this coming week the MTA would ask the city to contribute more money to the MTA to help fix the issues, de Blasio all but said he would refuse such a demand, and pointed out that the city’s $2.5 billion contribution to the most recent MTA capital plan for 2015-2019 (which is higher than recent years but still does not keep pace with inflation), along with the billions that city resident, tourists, and commuters already contribute through taxes and fares, proved that the city had satisfied its burden. The mayor also claimed that only 10 percent of that $2.5 billion capital commitment has been spent so far, citing figures from the City's Office of Management and Budget, and noted that the state government has treated the MTA like a “piggy bank.”
“I’ve been surprised at this demand for more money when the money they have has not been spent in any rational fashion,” the mayor said. “Read my lips: they’re not spending the money they have, and they’re not spending it on the right things. Spend it on the signals, spend it on the new trains, spend it on the electronic system, spend it on more maintenance. Let’s see the MTA come forward with a plan, let’s see the MTA use the money it has, let’s see the state of New York restore the half billion they took out of the MTA budget.”
And if there is no plan from the governor or the MTA? “I’ll present my own plan,” the mayor said.
We asked the governor’s office to respond to the mayor’s comments, and will update if they do.
After just four stops—eight minutes and thirty seconds, as service was uncharacteristically good—the mayor stepped off at Jay Street-Metrotech to open a new campaign office. The press conference was over.
A woman named Chanel, who was on the sweltering platform waiting for an F train with her friend, said that her weekday commute from Downtown Brooklyn to Flatiron had gotten much worse recently. The trains were slower, more crowded, and seemed to get stuck in tunnels for much longer than they used to.
Asked if she had any words for the public servants whose job it is to improve the subway system, Chanel was at a loss.
“It’s gotten to a point where I’m just like, complacent about it because it’s so bad that I don’t really expect anything to improve,” she said, laughing. “It’s really sad!”