On Wednesday evening, July 15, a day after David Paterson nominated former London transit chief Jay Walder to head the Metropolitan Transit Authority, a panel was convened at the Museum of the City of New York to discuss the future of the beleaguered agency.
But much of the conversation, which was moderated by Henry Stern—a former councilman and parks commissioner who leads the museum’s Civic Talk series—centered on the past. For example: the lack of city tax revenues devoted to transit, how years of underfunding and subsequent borrowing put the M.T.A. tens of billions of dollars in debt, and—as the most vocal of the panelists put it—the failure of past leaders to “stand up” to the people who gave them their jobs.
“One of the things we need to consider as the new C.E.O. of the M.T.A. takes his position is: What are the fiduciary obligations—that is the duty to the system—of the leadership of the M.T.A.? As opposed to their duty to the people who appoint them—the mayor and the governor,” said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat who was perhaps the most outspoken political opponent of the mayor’s congestion-pricing plan in 2007.
“That independence will be at the heart of whether Mr. Walder is able to succeed in bringing reform to the M.T.A.,” Mr. Brodsky said. “The law gives Mr. Walder a clear defense for the next time the mayor says, ‘Go build me a subway line to nowhere.’ Whether he will use that defense will become the chief measurement of his success or his failure.”