State pols pull bill to split MTA leadership role after concerns of Cuomo power grab

Governor Andrew Cuomo during a press tour of the East Side Access terminal on May 27, 2021.
Photo by Mark Hallum

State lawmakers withdrew a bill to split the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s leadership in two Wednesday after concerns that Governor Andrew Cuomo was trying to cement his power over the massive transit agency.

State Senator Diane Savino, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, said she pulled the legislation she sponsored on Cuomo’s behalf due to resistance from her fellow lawmakers and labor unions, as was first reported by the New York Daily News.

“The bill is being withdrawn due to a lack of support for the proposal,” the legislator told amNewYork Metro in a statement. “Members felt it was too late in the session to take up an issue that had not been vetted. There was concern over reversing the decision made in 2000 to separate the two positions and consolidate power, and objections from unions.”

Cuomo sent a bill to lawmakers Monday night just hours before a midnight deadline to introduce legislation to split the MTA’s chairperson and chief executive officer currently held by Pat Foye role in two, making the CEO position serve “at the pleasure of the governor” without having to be approved by the state legislature.

The governor nominated MTA’s chief development officer Janno Lieber for the CEO role and tapped New York City Transit chief Sarah Feinberg for the unpaid chairperson role, which would have made her the first woman to take on that job. Lieber would have also retained his current role responsible for capital planning and projects, as well as real estate development.

Foye was slated to head over to the state’s economic development arm, Epmire State Development, as interim president with the changes set to take effect on July 30.

The law is now dead in the water with this year’s legislative session in Albany set to conclude on June 10.

After the news of the nominations broke Tuesday, government watchdog group Reinvent Albany sounded the alarm about Cuomo’s late-night maneuver, saying it would undo reform measures from 2009 spearheaded by former MTA chairperson Richard Ravitch to reunify the position in order to keep the Authority’s chief more independent.

Giving the governor the power to appoint and fire the MTA’s CEO, who would have direct authority over the massive agency’s day-to-day operations, without oversight from the legislature would hinder the transit guru from working in riders’ interest, according to the reformers.

The move which the organization described as a “backroom deal” echoed a similar push by Cuomo’s father and late Governor Mario Cuomo, who in 1983 tried to push a similar bill which lawmakers also killed.