Wednesday, December 21, 2005

MTA-TWU:The Challenge to the Mayor

The first day of the transit strike had its predictable impact on the city's economy. Hardest hit were the retailers who depend so much on holiday sales to bolster their yearly bottom line. The smallest shopkeepers in Lower Manhattan were probably hurt most of all. As the Times reported a Starbucks in that area was closed after 9 AM even though a sign said that the store opens at 6:00.

In all of the chaos we weren't surprised to see that the Daily News' Juan Gonzales found that the TWU and its leadership were acting brilliantly. We'll see just how brilliant if the City and State, along with the courts, start to whack them big time with fines and jail time. Which brings is to the mayor.

This is as big a threat to the city's well-being as anything short of another terrorist attack. If the strike continues, simple jawboning ("This is an illegal strike that can't be tolerated") will not be nearly enough. Tough talk needs to be followed by some tough action, and hiding behind the governor's skirt, the Taylor Law, and the governance issue surrounding public authorities, will leave New Yorkers in a foul mood. When and if this happens the city's chief executive is a likely scapegoat for public frustration.

What the mayor needs to do in this situation (since we don't believe he'll have the nerve to call for the PATCOing of the strikers) is to demand that the legislature and the governor convene a special legislative session for the sole purpose of altering the MTA's basic governing structure. Put simply, as Henry Stern does on today's OP-ED page of the NY Times, the City of New York must be put in charge of its own transit system.

The same arguments that were made about the old Board of Education can be made about the MTA, with even greater justification. At least the Board owed its power to the city's own elected officials. The MTA, on the other hand, is unaccountable to the city's leaders and because it is a public authority is often unaccountable to anyone (at the same time that elected officials are often able to hide behind the MTA's governing structure to escape their own accountability).

So Mr. Mayor aspire to greatness! Use your bully pulpit to demand that you be given the authority to take the TWU and its members to the woodshed in the name of the Public Good. You might also, as the NY Sun suggests, call for the privatization and the dismantling of the "transit monopoly." Your characterizing of the TWU's actions as "thuggery" will not cut it and waiting for the courts to act is not the strong leadership that this critical situation demands. We might even take back some of the bad things we've been saying about you. Ya never know!