On Tuesday morning, an A train filled with riders suddenly derailed in Harlem, injuring more than thirty people and adding yet another chapter to the sorry story of a transit system not only in danger of total collapse, but very capable of leaving New Yorkers dead. Riders, many of them panicked by the lack of communication from the MTA as smoke continued to pile into the disabled subway cars, took videos and photos of what looked like a disaster scene. Eight hundred people had tried to get to work or home or the doctor’s office — tried to get on with their lives — and instead ended up walking through the dark tunnels of the New York City subway system.
Cuomo’s newly appointed chairman to the MTA, who will not be doing the job full-time, was on hand at the accident to give a brief press conference about the derailment, stressing that the MTA is taking the dangerous situation in the subways seriously.
But where was Governor Andrew Cuomo, the man actually responsible for the subways, who could, with just an ounce of political will, start the long process of repairing them? Who has repeatedly lied about his power over the MTA for the sake of political expedience? Who has spent money on projects that do nothing to make the aging subway system safer or run better?
He wasn’t in Albany, where he just adjourned the state legislature during its worst session in recent memory. According to the governor’s schedule provided to the press, he was in New York City, although his exact whereabouts are unknown.
Cuomo’s silence is in contrast to his response to a recent derailment on his beloved Long Island Rail Road in January, when the governor sprang into action to show how much he cared for the plight of New York’s suburban commuters. But for New York City’s subway riders, who, even when their trains don’t go off track, face mounting delays and disruptions of service? Nary a word. His press office has not replied to our request for comment, and the governor has yet to show his face or release a statement since the derailment.
Locally, the politician responsible for representing the city’s interests to the state, Mayor Bill de Blasio, has likewise gone silent. The mayor has no public events before four o’clock this afternoon but has not given an update about the situation, gone to the site of the derailment, or shown any type of public sympathy — or anger at Cuomo’s inaction — for what his constituents experienced this morning.
A City Hall press secretary gave a statement to the Voice saying that the mayor will “continue to monitor the situation as the investigation continues.”
De Blasio’s only public appearance thus far today was when he ducked the press outside of his YMCA in Park Slope. It would be a dumb controversy save for the fact that de Blasio appears to have made attendance at his far-flung workouts a higher priority than attending to New Yorkers at the site of a transit disaster. Why worry about derailment when your primary mode of transportation is an SUV?
De Blasio, who takes no joy in almost every facet of being mayor, has appeared to have lost his appetite for picking fights with the governor, probably because Cuomo has deliberately dragged out a debate over mayoral control of public schools just to show how much power he holds over his fellow Democrat.
Neither Cuomo nor de Blasio have any political future beyond the posts they currently hold. Cuomo’s longtime drift to the right of the political center is out of step with any type of coalition that will be needed to win a Democratic presidential primary, and de Blasio won a mayoral primary against a decimated political field that was too tainted by the stench of Bloomberg’s third term to put up much of a fight. He’s lucky to be running without serious opposition this fall.
One thing both politicians can accomplish, however, is saving the New York City subway system. Restoring a marginal working relationship and showing empathy for the plight of subway riders would go a long way toward addressing the animosity New Yorkers are currently feeling toward their political leadership (one that appears favorable only when taken in the context of Trump’s Washington).
But neither Cuomo nor de Blasio care enough to show their faces after their own political egos have derailed the most vital part of the city they claim to represent. Until they begin to own up to their mistakes, the situation will only get worse.
Image via Enrique Garcia/Twitter
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 27, 2017