Transit Hurrah

The People Who Stood Up to the MTA Bullies

Justice Louis York, a former legal services lawyer, comes out of a West Side reform Democratic clubhouse, which helped him win election to the bench in 1986. As an acting Supreme Court judge, he has been a gimlet-eyed observer of government action. He ruled against the City Council's lead-paint-removal law when it sought to ease landlords' burden, saying the council had performed only a "perfunctory environmental review." He chastised a Giuliani administration official for trying to hide a report on rent stabilization that would have mitigated rent hikes. In his decision last week, York brushed aside the MTA lawyers' claims that the public had no right to detailed financial information and that the court had no say in its decision making. Instead, he ruled that the authority was required to "provide the public in attendance at public hearings with accurate information." Not to do so, he said, "would greatly diminish the value of [the law's] crucial safeguards."

Alan Hevesi and William Thompson, the state and city comptrollers, respectively, did the tough spade work that provided the basis for the lawsuit, and the crucial underpinnings of the judge's decision. Hevesi, realizing that time was of the essence, ended MTA stonewalling on documents he requested by subpoenaing the records, a last resort for fiscal auditors. Putting egos aside, the two men did New York a service by releasing their reports at a joint press conference, providing a tough one-two punch that stunned both the public and the MTA.

Richard Brodsky, a 20-year veteran assemblyman from Westchester County, has made himself and his legislative oversight committee into the sharpest critics of the MTA's excess and corruption. In a battery of hearings over the past two months, Brodsky has skewered top officials on how the agency allowed its new headquarters to balloon from a cost of $130 million to more than $400 million. He has fashioned an MTA reform bill that would increase outside scrutiny of its budgets, create an independent budget office, allow public access to contract records, and perhaps most important, take the appointment of the inspector general away from the governor and give it to the attorney general. The MTA is "a secret government," says Brodsky. "They are not accountable."

Roger Toussaint, transit union leader, has never lost sight of the fact that his membership and their families are transit users as well as operators. His opposition to the fare hike last year, coming even as he sought an improved contract, infuriated MTA chairman Peter Kalikow. But Toussaint stuck to his guns. When the lawsuit was filed, Toussaint put his top people to work on the litigation, including lawyers Arthur Schwartz and Dan Bright and special adviser and former Straphangers Campaign activist Joe Rappaport.

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