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Yaro also agrees that there is good reason to be fearful of the administration's response to dissenters. Last year, Doctoroff lobbied the RPA heavily not to oppose him on the West Side. "We were under all kinds of pressure," Yaro said. "Our board members were as well." Two members, Keyspan Energy and developer Jerry Speyer, both quit the board after Doctoroff's arm-twisting, according to Yaro.
"There is a reign of terror in this town," Yaro said. "The litmus test is 'Do you support the Olympics?' If so, then you can do business with the city."
Ravitch said his own decision to speak out emerged when he realized the MTA was facing a crisis almost as severe as the one he confronted when he took over the agency in 1979. "This is a crucial time for them," he said of the MTA's leadership. "I think they have come up with a very legitimate budget plan but the political system hasn't responded. The mayor's people voted against the plan at the MTA board level, which shocked me. And then the governor's response wasn't adequate. So there is the MTA in desperate need of billions of dollars, and they are asking the chairman to give away an asset worth that much money for next to nothing."
For Ravitch, 71, it is the first time he has entered a public policy debate since his failed 1989 bid for the Democratic mayoral nomination, when his candidacy won admiring editorials but little popular support.
"I just decided I have been involved in this city for my whole life, and if I wasn't willing to speak up, why the hell would I expect anyone else to?" he said.
Veteran transit advocate Gene Russianoff said he had tried in the past to get Ravitch to speak out on transit issues without success. "If someone was going to say what Richard Ravitch's legacy was for the city, it would be that he made the trains infinitely better," said Russianoff. "He killed himself to get that money to turn the system around. I think he feels like, 'I'll be damned if I'll sit by while they screw it up.' "