The taxi industry wants a friendly commissioner. Will de Blasio oblige?
The taxi industry which has given so much to mayor-elect Bill de Blasio would now like something in return: a friendlier taxi commissioner.
After delivering more than $350,000 to de Blasio’s campaign, people in the industry are floating names to replace outgoing taxi commissioner David Yassky, who has had a contentious relationship with both taxi medallion owners and large livery companies like Carmel and Dial 7.
The Greater New York Taxi Association, which has opposed both the borough taxi and Taxi of Tomorrow programs, is said to be pushing its own attorney Fidel del Valle, who was the city's taxi commissioner under David Dinkins.
The association's executive director did not respond to a request for comment.
But del Valle has contributed to de Blasio's campaign and has a reputation as an unassuming manager who is disinclined to make waves. He is also said to be floating his own name, according to two people in the industry, but not according to him.
“I’m certainly flattered that people are thinking about me in those terms,” he said. “But I’m not pushing for that position.
David Pollack, a de Blasio donor who heads up an organization of taxi leasing agents called the Committee for Taxi Safety, is also said by multiple industry sources interviewed for this article to be interested. He's a frequent critic of the Bloomberg regime and hosts a radio show called Taxi Insider.
“Just the the fact that people are mentioning my name is an honor,” he said.
The Livery Roundtable, which was founded by Carmel and Dial 7, opposes Bloomberg's borough taxis and is said to be floating the name of Nora Marino, a lawyer from Little Neck who was appointed to the taxi and limousine board of commissioner after trying, and failing, to unseat then-state senator Frank Padavan.
Marino has contributed to de Blasio, and voted against the Taxi of Tomorrow program, the borough taxi program, the e-hail pilot, and the 2012 fare hike for drivers.
She told Capital she had “heard bits and pieces,” about her name being floated, but declined further comment.
"I have not heard this before," emailed Anat Gerstein, the Roundtable's spokeswoman.
Other names that came up in conversations with industry sources: Vinny Grippo, who used to work as a special assistant to former taxi commissioner Matt Daus and is now the deputy commissioner for management and budget at the NYPD; Jeff Lynch, City Council transportation committee chairman Jimmy Vacca’s chief of staff; Ashwini Chhabra, who has expressed interest in remaining at the T.L.C. but who, because he is David Yassky’s chief policy guy, is an unlikely choice for commissioner; Peter Schenkman, who was a T.L.C. assistant taxi commissioner and worked on the early Taxi of Tomorrow program; Ira Goldstein, a former T.L.C. chief of staff who now serves as executive director of the New York Black Car Fund; and Frank Carone, a taxi commission boardmember from Brooklyn and a partner in Brooklyn Democratic boss Frank Seddio's law firm;
"Let me just say that I would have to really think about it," said Carone, when I asked if he would be interested in the position. "But any time you’re asked to serve the city, I think it’s something that you should take very very seriously."
De Blasio, as has been well-documented, has returned the industry's embrace of him and his campaign, reliably opposing largely progressive initiatives by the current administration that medallion and livery owners oppose, and going out of his way to make clear his intention to jettison Yassky.
But that doesn't guarantee anything, especially now that de Blasio's ties to the industry, and his tendency to adopt the industry's positions, are getting more attention than they did when he was merely one of several primary candidates. In this respect, it would not be all that surprising to see him choose a non-industry technocrat like Grippo or Lynch.
As one industry source put it, “The industry pushing someone might be the death knell. Some people say it’s better if he comes to the attention of the de Blasio people from other than industry people.”
The de Blasio transition team had no comment.
And as del Valle said, “I don’t think the administration has figured out who the main meshugenahs are gonna be, let alone down to the commissioner level."