Now that Governor Cuomo has staffed his Cabinet and made nominations for some key posts, he might want to focus his attention on the MTA Board. Nearly two-thirds of the MTA’s board members — fourteen — will be up for reappointment this year or are “holdovers” whose terms have already expired, presenting the Governor and others with a key opportunity to bring new blood into the hyper criticized body of decision makers. (The governor appoints the chairman and the entire board, but 17 of its 22 members are recommended by the NYC mayor, county executives in the MTA region, the appointed commuter councils, and transit worker unions.)
The board is no stranger to vitriolic attack, and its predominantly white and affluent makeup often worsens things. From the 2009 backlash over free EZ-Passes (the perk was rescinded) to frequent but untrue accusations that MTA board members get paid huge sums of money to sit on the board (board members are unpaid), the lack of diversity on the board intensifies the public’s antagonism and lack of confidence in the agency. The riding public, which is predominantly working-class and roughly half made up of persons of color, lacks identifiable representation amongst Board members. The feeling has only been fortified by the December replacement of Norman Seabrook with Charles G. Moerdler, which leaves John H. Banks III as the only person of color serving on the MTA Board.
Aside from the obvious lack of racial diversity on the board, diversity lacks in other areas: low and fixed income representation; age (where are those members 35 and younger?); the disabled; and women. Of the 22 decision makers, only three are women.
New appointments also should be made with an eye toward broadening the skill sets on the board. Former Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch and others have argued that board members should have experience in transportation, finance, labor relations, or other relevant areas of experience.
There have been, and still are, consistently strong advocates of people of color, low-income, the disabled, and working-class transit riders on the MTA’s board. But the time is long overdue to have more leadership with firsthand experience of how the decisions made in board rooms impact the lives of everyday transit riders. The offices charged with making these appointments, such as the suburban county executives, the Mayor’s office, and the various commuter councils, should recommend a more diverse and transit representative candidate pool to the Governor. And the Governor should take a hard look at the MTA Board to help fulfill his commitment to a “New New York.”