New York Rivals: Cuomo, de Blasio, & the MTA

New York hot dog versus Chicago hot dog. Yankees versus Red Sox. Cuomo versus de Blasio? New Yorkers are no strangers to good, old-fashioned rivalries, but tensions between Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have many wondering is Cuomo versus de Blasio will soon hold rank amongst the city’s most storied rivalries.

The tumultuous status of New York’s biggest political players is certainly not new. Mayoral and gubernatorial strife in New York goes back decades with each entity displaying frustration at the perceived incompetence or ineptitude of the other. Yet Cuomo and de Blasio’s friendly beginnings make their current fall-out unique. As Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) during the Clinton Administration, Cuomo worked closely with de Blasio who managed HUD’s New York-New Jersey region. Cuomo’s father, the late former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, even noted similarities between de Blasio and his own son. When de Blasio won the mayoral election in 2013, Cuomo stated, “We use the word friend in politics often and sometimes casually. But the new mayor of New York truly is a friend in the deepest sense of the word.”

Shortly after the Mayor took office, the familial-like relationship between de Blasio and Cuomo started to crumble. The past four years have been filled with disagreements, policy rejections, subtle snubs, sarcastic tweets, and literally blame games. The most recent and far reaching tension has focused on the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and whose responsibility it falls under. In June 2017, the governor declared the MTA to be in a state of emergency and announced a one billion dollar increase in state funding to MTA’s capital plan, while demanding that the City pay more to fix the problem. The mayor’s office supports the increased funding, but Mayor de Blasio maintains that the MTA is under the state’s authority and therefore the city should not be asked to foot the bill. Cuomo adamantly denies his “control” of the MTA and insists that the city take more ownership over the MTA system. While Cuomo does not appoint the majority of the MTA’s board, he singularly appoints six of the 14-vote board, including the Chairman and the CEO, which is more appointments than any other single entity.

In the current capital plan, the state pledged $8 billion and the city pledged $2.5 billion, however daily ridership accounts for half of the MTA’s operating budget that, when combined with taxes and fees on city residents, covers 68% of the operating budget. Part of de Blasio’s reluctance to increase funding from the city is because of the perceived mismanagement of current funds. The mayor slammed the governor’s $216 million project to add choreographed lights on city bridges, claiming that “…people who ride the subways are not interested in a light show”.

Regardless of who’s to blame for the MTA’s failures, there is obviously a clear loser: the commuter. At the end of the day, when politicians spend time shifting blame or taking jabs at one another, they are taking from time and resources that could be better spent improving the quality of life for their constituents. No one expects full alignment between the mayor and the governor, but New Yorkers expect and deserve to be able to commute to work without fear of their subway car derailing. The safety of New Yorkers shouldn’t take backseat to passive aggressive statements and responsibility-shifting political tactics.