Mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing progressive changes to the city’s transit system. So progressive, in fact, that anyone who’s been living in a cave for the past eight years might think that Bloomberg could actually contribute to the wellbeing of the working people of New York City.
For instance, Bloomberg has recently noticed that the public transit system is “the lifeblood of our city.” He should know; he rides the 6 train to work (after being chauffeured from his mansion to a subway station by SUV, of course). Apparently, he’s come to the realization that the city’s lifeblood isn’t as plentiful as it should be. He’s released a whole 33-point program to fix transit for New Yorkers!
As a former Coney Island resident, I can appreciate the need (listed in his program) to add express service on the F line. That would cut a commute from Manhattan to the far edge of Brooklyn by maybe 20 minutes. And he doesn’t stop there! He wants to spread the largesse: Now, he’s advocating free crosstown bus service, reopening a whole rail line in Staten Island, van service to help underserved neighborhoods... The list goes on!
Bloomberg’s going all out. He’s created a petition to the MTA, featured on his website, so that we can tell the authority, “no more excuses, no more delays!”
The mayor has started this campaign with such a passion that, if taken at face value, would leave one feeling slightly perplexed, vexed by a number of questions.
Why has it taken the mayor eight years in office to notice that the MTA is a mess?
If he noticed the trouble before, why didn’t he do anything? Could he have just discovered the art of the petition, only now? Couldn’t he have at least said something?
Of course, the plan doesn’t mention the transit workers themselves. But that’s to be expected: We already know he hates them. During the 2005 labor dispute, which eventually led to a historic strike, Bloomberg wasted no time siding with the MTA management. In fact, the mayor was a major force pushing for then-Transport Workers Union Local 100 president Roger Toussaint to be thrown in jail. He also referred to the strikers as “criminals,” basing his comments on the state’s Taylor Law, which bans public workers from striking. (Many consider this law to be a violation of ILO labor standards, but Bloomberg can’t be bothered with that.)
So he’s against the workers, the people who actually run the trains, buses and so on. We’ve always known that. But we always thought he viewed the riders with a malevolent neglect. He seems to be saying this isn’t the case.
The problem with Bloomberg’s narrative—that of a caring mayor looking out for his constituents—is that it diverges wildly from reality, as do a number of statements on the website itself.
“Our transit system is run by the MTA, and controlled by Albany,” says the site.
Of course, even great lies have grains of truth in them. The MTA is a “bloated bureaucracy,” as Bloomberg’s site says. And it’s a public authority (the type that the Senate Democrats are trying to tame), that shields politicians from blame. This is bad, and the MTA should be democratized.
But one of the politicians shielded from blame by the MTA is Bloomberg himself. What he neglects to mention his website is that, of the 17 members of the authority’s board, eight are named by the leaders of New York City and surrounding communities, four by Bloomberg himself.
Is he really telling us that he’s had no influence over an agency of which nearly a quarter of its board are handpicked by him?
And even if it were the case that he had no authority, which it’s obviously not, where was he for the past eight years? While he’s been mayor there have been several fare increases (base fare was $1.50 in 2002; now it’s $2.25) and cuts: hundreds of booths in subway stations are now closed.
Earlier this very year, there was a crisis in the MTA, with the possibility of huge service cuts—the elimination of entire subway lines and bus routes, less frequent buses and so on, brand new tolls on the East River bridges—as well as steep fare increases. You’d think that Bloomberg would have been there, championing the rights of New Yorkers, figuring out a solution—doing something.
But where was he?
Where was he when the TWU was rallying against cuts? Where was he when people like Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson (who, incidentally, has spent the past eight years actually supporting transit workers and commuters), comptroller candidate John Liu and others were holding press conferences demanding that there be no cuts or fare increases?
Thompson and Liu, as well as tens of thousands of New Yorkers were fighting for a solution: Raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers, those who make over $500,000 per year, to stop what would have been devastating cuts, then look at reforming the authority so that people—like Bloomberg—couldn’t hide behind it.
Where was Bloomberg? When the demonstration of 75,000 people in front of City Hall, demanding taxes on the rich to avoid all sorts of public service cuts, was going on, he was inside telling the press, “We love rich people.” For some reason, he didn’t join his colleagues in elected office, Thompson, Liu and others, in speaking at the rally.
The reason that there is no plan as to how to pay for all the new services he’s offering is clear: he doesn’t intend to deliver on them.
His whole campaign is a lie, a sham, to cover up an abysmal record of not fighting for New Yorkers. Transit is a big issue for New Yorkers, and he’s looking to, if not convince people he’ll do something good, at least hide the fact that he’s been a hindrance to better transportation.
As his poll numbers drop, the mayor is desperately trying to find a way to distance himself from ... himself.
This campaign is a new low for Bloomberg, who has now taken to treating New Yorkers as fools.
Unfortunately for the mayor, people realize that you simply can’t be the solution to a problem of which you are a main part.