The Man in the Middle of the Congestion Pricing Debate

Jose Fernandez, the head of the 7,200-member Bodega Association of the United   States, showed up at an anti-congestion pricing press conference on Wednesday afternoon. A few hours later, advocates of congestion pricing sent out a press release claiming Mr. Fernandez as one of them and carrying a quote to prove it.

Pardon us for asking, Mr. Fernandez, but just whose side are you on?

Neither, he said. But one thing is for sure: both sides would like to claim him very much, and in fact have, because of the political value of having small-business support.

“I’m 95 percent with the Mayor’s plan and I’m just a little bit concerned with the little piece, with the traffic congestion piece,” he told The Observer on Thursday morning. “If there is going to be a guarantee or something that can show us that prices will not be increased because of this tax that is going to be imposed than I am in total agreement.”

He said that he has been consistently on the fence. He said he had met with Jim Whelan, chief of staff for Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, on Tuesday, and became convinced that congestion pricing opponents didn’t see the whole picture. But he said still had reservations about the congestion pricing fee—which, interestingly enough, he calls a “tax” rather than a “fee,” the way the Mayor and his allies have billed it.

Mr. Fernandez showed up at Wednesday’s anti-congestion pricing press conference in order to press that point, he said. “I wanted to send the message to the Mayor that even though I might be in favor of the whole project, he has to be careful and make sure that the project is not going to increase prices.”

He did not dispute that he had said what the pro-pricing group, Campaign for New York’s Future, quoted him as saying, namely that congestion pricing opponents failed to acknowledge all the transit improvements that would be funded by congestion pricing revenues. But he said it was incorrect to characterize him as an unqualified supporter.

“I think that to say that I support their position without an explanation of my detail, I don’t think it is right. I think it should be a whole quote,” he told The Observer.

Mr. Fernandez said he needed more information to make up his mind. He said he plans to consult with members of his board next week to come out with a definitive position.

Michael O’Loughlin, the campaign coordinator for Campaign for New York’s Future, confirmed in a statement that he considers Mr. Fernandez to be a supporter of congestion pricing. Richard Lipsky, the organizer for Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free, who also, incidentally, has done work with Mr. Fernandez on other issues affecting bodegas, told The Observer that he believes Mr. Fernandez opposed congestion pricing even though he supports other parts of the Mayor’s PlaNYC environmental initiative.

Meanwhile, the two sides are also duking it out over this morning’s Quinnipiac University poll, which showed that city voters opposed congestion pricing 56 to 37 percent.