Friday, December 23, 2005

MTA Blame Game: Training Day for the Mayor?

The settling of the transit strike has set in motion the usual barrage of post-mortem analysis and the accompanying blame game. By far the best we have seen is the column written by Fred and Harry Siegel in today's NY Post. The Siegels rightly point to the totally dysfunctional nature of the MTA as an agency that is supposed to serve the public interest in the formation of transit policy.

The key observation is how the MTA functions as an inefficient and unaccountable "patronage dump" with hundreds of useless employees serving in public relations and human resources. The best phrase in the piece is the description of the Authority as a "politically insulated bureaucracy" that keeps two sets of books and doesn't have the basic ability to balance either of the sets.

The Siegels reserve some of their sharpest barbs for the governor and the mayor. They mock the governor's comment – as Pataki was set to fly off to New Hampshire on the eve of the strike, he remarked that he was going to leave the negotiating to the "professionals at the table" – by saying, "presumably instead of the amateur in the statehouse."

They don't let the mayor off the hook either and observe that Bloomberg kept a low profile until after the strike had already begun. This is, of course, quite true but it misses the mayor's key policy failing. Later in the piece the Siegels praise Anthony Weiner for calling on Albany to "restore the city's control over its own trains." This is precisely what the mayor should have been calling for and something, as we have pointed out, he has not done on a consistent basis: tackle the absurd governance issues in the making of transit policy.


Which brings us to the related issue of the mayor's accusations of "thuggery" against the TWU. Errol Loius takes strong issue with the characterization in today's NY Daily News. His point is that the mayor was being both ignorant and insensitive to the historic role that the transit union has played in lifting thousands of African-Americans into the middle class.

The same theme is played out in Jim Rutenberg's Times piece this morning. While we think that the failure to tackle the governance issue is the real essence of the lack of balance and thoughtfulness in the mayor's whole approach to the crisis, we believe that his use of racial innuendo will give these more crucial questions greater resonance. As one Bloomberg voter vehemently told the mayor at Junior's Restaurant, "'They're working people and they're not thugs."

All of which leads us, in the interest of balance, to reiterate that the TWU and Roger Toussaint deserve their share of blame for their failure to build the kind of public interest coalition that the Alliance had started for them four years ago. This failure allowed their enemies to unfairly claim the moral high ground.