“Richard is an extremely intelligent guy who I believe could bring consensus to this issue if he really has an open mind,” said Kathryn Wylde, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, and a member of the commission. “For him to become an advocate of congestion pricing is unlikely, but convincing him that the process of getting there is fair and the plan is comprehensive enough are going to be very important to making the commission work.”
Mr. Brodsky maintains that he has an open mind when it comes to the panel, but he has clearly defined views on the issue. In 1995, he sponsored a bill that would have prohibited congestion pricing. This summer, he put out a report identifying 10 objections to Mr. Bloomberg’s plan, ranking from fears that it could lead to charging for using parks to the concern that the 1,000 extra camera stations would constitute an invasion of privacy. Significantly, he (or his staff) did the math and determined that city drivers would be paying almost half of the program’s revenue even though they earn less than their suburban counterparts.
That argument has rankled liberal groups who argue that many more middle– and working-class New Yorkers—95 percent of whom commute to work via bus and subway—will benefit from the revenue from congestion pricing, once it is invested in mass transit improvements.
“A lot of it is lazy thinking—using the language of the middle class to put fear into a large segment of the population for the benefit of a small segment,” said another commission member, Andrea Batista Schlesinger, executive director of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy. “He confuses driving with a public good without recognizing that it is the streets that are the public good.”
Mr. Brodsky believes that progressive groups have been swayed by a powerful billionaire salesman in City Hall, and that there are more effective and less regressive ways to do the same thing. Among them: “congestion rationing,” under which cars would be restricted in their travel depending on their license plates. He recently suggested, for example, that cars with license plates ending with “1” would be prohibited from traveling into core Manhattan on the first, 11th, and 21st of each month.
Rohit Aggarwala, the director of the mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, who led a yearlong effort to devise Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal, said that only congestion pricing would relieve traffic congestion, generate revenue and qualify the city and state for $354.5 million in federal funds.
Still, Mr. Brodsky’s arguments have resonance, articulating positions that his colleagues in the legislature can latch onto and making other figures in the state’s political world think twice about which side to be on.
The Working Families Party, a nine-year-old liberal third party backed by unions and community organizations, has not yet formed a position on congestion pricing, in part because of the schism within the city’s progressive community, according to executive director Dan Cantor.
“Brodsky has made it clear that there are cogent arguments on both sides of this thing and he is the most cogent voice on the anti side,” he said. “He is going to articulate and be the champion of the view that this is just an inequitable tax on working- and middle-class people. Others may disagree, but he will be well armed because he reads widely and thinks deeply.”
AFTER THE CONSUMERS UNION MEETING, Mr. Brodsky and his aide drove to the Metro-North station in Yonkers. As he waited on the platform to catch a train down to Manhattan, a middle-aged man came up to him and said he recognized him from cable television. “I hope you run for county executive,” the man said.
Mr. Brodsky smiled and thanked him, and didn’t mention that he already had. He wasn’t going to start an argument about that.