Anthony Weiner demands New York City’s independence from public authorities

Weiner on Park Avenue. (Dana Rubinstein)
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"Bill Thompson served on the Battery Park Authority—What the heck is that?" asked former congressman and mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner today at a forum about transportation, referring to the former comptroller sitting beside him, who had just moments before poured Weiner a glass of water.

"Why do we have a whole bunch of people in New York City having big decisions governed by an unelected authority," he continued. "We have to change that ethos. ... That should be the conversation. And you should have had it when you were there, my friend."

"Let me apologize," said Thompson, after a pause. "I do have to run."

He did. But Weiner wasn't done with the topic at hand.

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The former congressman, who's running a surprisingly successful campaign for mayor, said today that he wants to reform the public authorities that govern so much that is integral to New York City.

Take, for example, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is controlled by the state.

Weiner, like Council Speaker Christine Quinn, among others, argues that the mayor should convince Albany to give control of New York City Transit, the M.T.A. branch that runs city subways and buses, to the mayor.

"I don't know what a representative from Buffalo has to do with who's getting on and off the G train, or whether or not we put a bus rapid transit on Atlantic Avenue," he said. "We have to start realizing that one of the reasons we're not getting the investment we need is that absence of accountability."

Same goes, he said, for the Port Authority, which was established by the federal government and is jointly controlled by the governors of New York and New Jersey.

"The Port Authority's a classic example," he said. "We have a difficult time doing just about anything, because we have the construct of an authority that has three levels of hierarchy: two governors across the river from one another. An executive director and a president appointed by different people. You have a permanent staff that feels accountability to no one. Look how long it took us to get the Ground Zero project finally underway....I think that anyone who wants to be mayor should say, 'I will take the good and the bad, so long as I get some more control over these things.'"

Weiner even plans to give a speech on the city's needless subservience to state authorities on July 4.

(When I asked his spokeswoman Barbara Morgan for more details on that speech, she wrote back, " We put out public schedules the night before.")

Of course, all of this is almost definitely just grandstanding.

"Yeah, the mayor's not gonna control these, nor is he or she going to convince the governor and legislature to forgo control," said Gerald Benjamin, a SUNY New Paltz political science professor. "It's not gonna happen."