Volume 74, Number 54 | May 18 - 24 , 2005

Villager photo by Jennifer Weisbord

Gifford Miller speaking in Hell’s Kitchen at last weekend’s anti-stadium rally.

Miller says mayor’s taking city for a ride on transit

By Albert Amateau

Gifford Miller, the City Council speaker and a Democratic candidate for mayor, came to the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce last week blasting what he called Mayor Bloomberg’s passive response to a subway system plagued with fires, floods and breakdowns.

Miller called for a moratorium on Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s planned subway expansions — except for the Second Ave. subway and the West Side No. 7 line — until “we get our priorities and fix the guts of the system.”

Responding to doubts about the mayor’s power over the M.T.A., a state agency, Miller noted that a New York City mayor names four members of the 15 voting members of the M.T.A. board. “And you’re the mayor of the city of New York with power to influence the board and the legislature,” Miller said, adding that Mayor Ed Koch would constantly call Richard Ravitch, who was head of the M.T.A. in Governor Mario Cuomo’s administration.

“Bloomberg doesn’t understand the politics of bringing coalitions together for change,” Miller told the May 12 Chamber lunch event, the first of four to be held in the near future for the major Democratic mayoral hopefuls.

Making sure that the infrastructure of the 100-year-old subway system is ready for the 21st century must come before the proposed $4.5 billion East Side Access plan to link the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Station, Miller said.

Nevertheless, he said the city needs the Second Ave. subway and the No. 7 line extension.

In response to a suggestion that the No. 7 line would primarily serve the New York Sports and Convention Center stadium proposed for the rail yards south of 34th St., Miller declared the extension would really be needed to serve an expanded Javits Convention Center and new commercial and residential development expected on 11th Ave. as a result of the new Hudson Yards rezoning.

Regarding the proposed stadium, Miller said the M.T.A. should not be allowed to sell the development rights over the rail yards, valued at $925 million, to the New York Jets for just over $200 million.

“We need an open and fair bidding process, a new R.F.P. [request for proposals] and the full participation of all involved in the Hudson Yards,” he said.

The speaker pointed out that the Council last month passed a bill to prohibit payments in lieu of taxes from being used for a stadium. He told the Chamber that all of the revenue from the development over the rail yards should go to the M.T.A. to maintain the subways.

While the M.T.A. declared earlier this year that the system’s infrastructure was a top priority, the agency later cut $5 billion, which was eventually restored, from its $16.5 billion infrastructure budget, Miller said.

“The M.T.A. has to cut its bureaucracy,” said Miller. “It has 444 employees in public relations, 698 in-house legal staff, 359 in budgeting. At the same time, it spends $10 million a year on outside legal consultants,” he added.

As mayor, Miller said he would go after state and federal revenues for the subway system. “The mayor must stop accepting defeat on the commuter tax that was lost five years ago,” he said. Restructuring city corporate taxes is also on the agenda, said Miller, noting that insurance companies pay no city corporate tax. He is in favor of the city participating in partnerships in which companies adopt a subway station and contribute directly to its maintenance.

To get at the administrative root of subway system problems, Miller said the M.T.A. has to become more open and accountable to the public. “We have to dispense with excuses and demand results,” he said.

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