The morning after a New York City mayoral debate highlighted fissures in the candidates’ response to public safety, the MTA’s leadership let voters know which candidates support its position that subway crime needs to be addressed with more police officers.
Interim President for New York City Transit Sarah Feinberg emailed the city’s press corps Friday about what she called multiple “very serious armed robbery and slashing incidents at stations on the same line.”
She said the attacks on the Lexington Line might not have happened had there been more police officers underground.
“The responsibility for these vicious attacks does not fall on an already strapped police department,” Feinberg wrote in her statement. “It falls on City Hall and the individuals who are taking advantage of the mayor’s negligence on the issue. If he needed a wake-up call, this is it. Enough is enough. The mayor is risking New York’s recovery every time he lets these incidents go by without meaningful action.”
The MTA’s press office ended the message by noting which candidates at Thursday’s night’s mayoral forum supported adding more police: Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Ray McGuire and Andrew Yang. The Democratic primary is on June 22, and the winner will presumably have a heavy advantage in the November general election given the city’s deep blue voting patterns in the most recent elections.
Watchdog groups see this unofficial endorsement as overstepping the MTA’s boundaries.
“For a non-elected state public servant to be attempting to influence candidates for city office is simply inappropriate,” said Rachael Fauss, with the good government group Reinvent Albany, in an emailed statement. “Putting a cop on every platform and every train is unaffordable and has not been done because it doesn’t make sense. There’s no doubt that there are problems but politicizing the issue and acting as a cat’s paw for the governor is not how the MTA can best help the riding public.”
MTA spokeswoman Abbie Collins said the authority wasn’t “politicizing” anything, it was simply providing context for the recent attacks on subway passengers and workers. And MTA Chairman Pat Foye said Friday the MTA is making “zero endorsement” in the race for mayor.
But Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director with Riders Alliance, disagreed with that characterization. He said the subway system “is overwhelmingly safe with millions of riders taking it every day.”
“The reality is that the governor’s fear-mongering may be scaring people away from public transit and making riders who need to travel less safe,” he wrote in a statement. “Meanwhile, thousands of New Yorkers suffering homelessness and mental illness are vilified, exploited, and abandoned by this classic Albany smear campaign.”
Nicole Gelinas, senior policy senior researcher at the Manhattan Institute, said it looked like the MTA had made its five ranked choice votes by singling out specific candidates ahead of the primary, in which city voters will use a new system of ranked choice voting. But unlike the Riders Alliance and Reinvent Albany, she noted that public authorities are never free of politics.
“The MTA, for example, weighed in heavily on the bond act of 2005, and it advocated heavily for congressional action last year,” Gelinas said.
“One could argue that the crime issue affects its fiscal interests,” she wrote in a statement. “In this case, they are using the mayoral race more as a cudgel in their war against the existing mayor for more police resources.”
However, Gelinas said she doesn’t think it’s wise for the MTA to name individual candidates, because this raises a host of issues. “Remember, they don’t allow political ads in subway stations,” she said. “But if they start weighing candidates themselves, someone is going to argue that they can not make such intonations from on high but keep its own property pristine of politics.”
The MTA insists it’s sticking to issues, not politics. At a press conference outside the Union Square subway station Friday afternoon, Foye continued to call for the city to add 600-800 armed police officers to the subway.
“City Hall cannot continue to bury its head in the sand any longer,” Foye said.
The city agreed last week to add more volunteer auxiliary police officers to patrol the subways, in addition to the 500 armed police officers added in February.
Foye was flanked by the head of the Transport Workers Union Local 100 Tony Utano, who went further in blaming the city for recent attacks on the subway.
“This is all about de Blasio doesn’t want to step up and do the right thing,” Utano said. “He’s got blood on his hands.”
Utano called for de Blasio to resign.
“New York City is surging over 500 officers on top of a 2,500-strong transit force to fight subway crime,” de Blasio spokesperson Bill Neidhardt wrote in a statement. “The City has pulled cops off desk duty and put them on platforms and trains. We’re going to keep putting massive resources into this fight to keep our subways safe. Meanwhile the MTA sends out statements that point fingers and talk about mayoral politics. Get with the program, help us fight back this crime.”
No transit workers have been killed by attacks on the subway since last year, when a man lit a train car on fire. The union notes there have been 15 attacks on subway riders and workers since last Sunday.
The city maintains the subways are overwhelmingly safe, and that major subway crimes are nearly half of what they were in 2020.