Monday, January 22, 2007

Spitzer waits to pick DOT, Thruway heads

Times Record-Herald

Eliot's Group is carefully screening candidates...for the best of the bunch...stay tuned........andy

Gov. Eliot Spitzer has yet to propose new leaders for two posts that play a vital role in the state's economy and the everyday lives of New Yorkers — a commissioner for the Department of Transportation and an executive director for the Thruway Authority.
On one hand, it's early days yet in a new administration that has hundreds of posts to fill. On the other, Spitzer did raise expectations for a quick start in an unusually detailed speech he gave in May about his plans to restore "professional excellence" to the state's transportation agencies.

"I'm kind of surprised, but what I hope this means is that he's simply taking his time and looking for people of the highest caliber," said Jon Orcutt, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, an advocacy organization.
Marc Violette, a spokesman for the governor, said Spitzer still intends to name "top-notch professionals" to these and other posts but doesn't have a concrete timetable for doing so.
Orcutt said the quality of Spitzer's nominees to lead the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — among his first appointments — was encouraging.

"The list of transportation reformers is not a long one, but a reformer is what the DOT needs to bring it into the 21st century, not a bagman to just roll projects out," said Orcutt as he discussed Spitzer's pledge to connect land use and transportation planning to achieve "smart growth."
Of particular note is that the Thruway Authority, Metro-North Railroad and DOT are enmeshed in a five-year-old study about repairing or replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge with or without some form of mass transit. The lumbering pace, and the DOT's apparent failure to quell inter-agency squabbling, has made for an increasingly restive constituency in Rockland County.
"We've already told the governor that we'd like to see a single agency put in charge of the project," said Orcutt. "This three-agency ping pong, where they have to run everything up three flagpoles to have a meeting, has been a disaster."

In the interim, it's business as usual at the two agencies. Spokeswomen for Thomas Madison at the DOT and Michael Fleischer at the Thruway Authority declined to say what, if any, conversations their bosses have had with Spitzer about their futures.
Madison, former Gov. George Pataki's third DOT commissioner, oversees an agency with 10,000 employees and a $1.61 billion a year operating budget. His salary, set by statute, is $136,000 — the same as that of other department heads.
Fleisher, Pataki's fourth executive director at the Thruway Authority, supervises 3,300 employees and a $341 million operating budget. His salary, set by the agency's board, is $164,800.

The Republicans who control the state Senate will have to confirm Spitzer's nominee for the DOT post but are unlikely to challenge the candidate.
In contrast, the Thruway Authority's board, all gubernational appointees subject to Senate approval, hires the executive director. Pataki named two close friends to the seven-member board days before he left office, potentially tying Spitzer's hands on the Tappan Zee project and other initiatives.
The appointees were Virgil Conway, Pataki's first MTA chairman, and Kevin Plunkett, the son of Pataki's former law partner. Both men live in Westchester County.

Pataki's action left Spitzer with only one seat to fill on the Thruway Authority's board in his first term of office, that of Nancy Carey Cassidy, former Gov. Hugh Carey's daughter. Her term has expired but she continues to serve until she is replaced, which is standard practice.

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