After MTA chairman Jay Walder announced his surprise resignation to go work in Hong Kong last week, almost everyone was upset that the financially shaky MTA was losing a "world class transportation professional," as Bloomberg put it. Walder officially stated he was leaving because of a "compelling offer" he couldn't refuse, but the scuttlebutt now is that Walder's chilly relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo played an important role in the decision.
MTA insider Peter Derrick, who worked for the MTA from 1982 to 1996, told us that while Walder had a close relationship with Bloomberg, he was never close with Gov. Cuomo, and they didn't seem to have a "warm" relationship. The Times backs that account up with an anecdote about the two which speaks volumes: Walder travelled to Albany to meet Cuomo earlier this year to discuss improvements for the transit system. And Cuomo reportedly gave him less than a moment of his time:
Mr. Walder was meeting the governor’s staff at the Capitol when Mr. Cuomo walked in. The governor greeted Mr. Walder, then promptly turned his attention to his director of state operations, Howard Glaser, with whom he spoke for several moments before departing, said two people familiar with the meeting.
Mr. Cuomo and the man in charge of the biggest mass transit system in the nation did not meet in person again, suggesting a lack of interest by Mr. Cuomo that irked and discouraged Mr. Walder, several officials said.
Walder was only two years into his six year tenure as chairman, and whether or not Cuomo was oblivious as to how he came across, one thing is clear: Cuomo had no plans to replace Walder, nor a list of candidates to do so. In addition, it seems that it hasn't been his number one concern lately: transportation “hasn’t been on his radar” because of priorities like legislative fights over the budget and same-sex marriage, according to Robert E. Paaswell, a longtime friend of Walder's who studies transportation at the City University of New York.
Derrick posited that Cuomo may end up taking after former Gov. George Pataki in how he handles the situation: "after [Pataki] was elected Governor in 1994, he politicized the MTA as never before, putting his own man in as Chairman (Virgil Conway) and replacing senior staff at MTA headquarters with his people. Under Ravitch, Kiley and Stangl, the agency had largely set its own policy. No more. Nothing happened at MTA that the Governor was not in agreement with." He also said a few "obvious (perhaps wishful) names have come up [as possible replacements], such as Janette Sadik-Khan and Chirs Ward, but no one I know has any real idea."
But maybe Cuomo gave Walder the cold shoulder for more nefarious reasons; after all, he has admitted in the past that he doesn't take the subway very much, and his religion is his muscle car collection. Could this all be some sort of massive pro-car conspiracy?