Two months after he was nominated by Gov. David Paterson, Jay Walder was confirmed today by the Senate in a 47-13 vote that demonstrated bipartisan support for the incoming MTA chief - a rare occurrence in a divided chamber with an inherent mistrust of the beleaguered transit authority.
Fifteen Republicans voted "yes" along with the Democrats. The "no" votes were all cast by GOP lawmakers, in spite of the fact that Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. voted earlier in the day to move Walder's nomination out of the Transportation Committee without recommendation.
(A list of the GOP "yes" and "no" votes appear at the end of this post; two senators were excused: Brian Foley and John Bonacic).
Walder got a standing ovation after the vote, but the debate was not without conflict.
Sen. Tom Libous, a Binghamton Republican who used to chair the Transportation Committee when the GOP was in the majority, said he was voting "no" because "there is more than transportation in this state than just the MTA."
"As an upstater, I have roads and bridges; I don't have an MTA where I live," Libous said, adding that his vote was intended to "send a message" to the governor and his colleagues. "We have no plan for roads and bridges...We need to have a comprehensive capital plan."
Capital for the MTA and upstate roads and bridges has traditionally been twinned in Albany, but the two were uncoupled when the MTA bailout was passed earlier this year.
Several senators criticized the MTA but told Walder they didn't hold him responsible for the sins of the past.
That didn't fly with Sen. John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, who noted Walder worked for the MTA for over a decade and rose to the post of chief financial officer and executive director before leaving in 1995.
"He's not a newbie to the situation here," Flanagan said. "He's got a track record - no pun intended - having worked for this authority."
Flanagan also slammed Walder for being evasive during his confirmation hearings and failing to do his "homework," adding: "You've got to know who the players are...Let's not kid ourselves, our nominee here is not new to the game."
The Democrats, by and large, were far more willing to give Walder a shot at straightening out the MTA, but also warned him that they will be keeping a close eye on the authority from afar, assisted by the new auditing requirement included in the bailout bill.
Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat, told Walder: "I'm not going to hold you responsible for mistakes you haven't made," but also informed him that there is "a level of discontent" with the MTA both in the Senate and in the Assembly.
Sen. Tom Morahan, a Hudson Valley Republican who is upset with the payroll tax included in the MTA bailout bill, nevertheless voted "yes" on Walder, but also told him that he would be exercising "my oversight here and my oversight as an individual senator".
"You have a great challenge," Morahan told Walder. "I believe you have great talent, but it's going to take great strength, political courage, to get through the problems facing the MTA, courage not normally found in the public authorities."
Paterson released a statement expressing his pleasure that the Senate had finally confirmed Walder, adding:
"I am confident that Jay will shepherd the MTA into a new era - one that benefits all riders, whether in the Hudson Valley, the five boroughs or on Long Island. I applaud this confirmation and look forward to working with Jay as we strive to make the MTA more efficient, transparent and accountable."
The administration considers the 47-13 vote a big win for Paterson, and considering the fact that the Senate Democrats lack the 32 votes necessary to pass things on their own and have a pretty poor track record on unity, they've got a point.
YES: Skelos, Razenhofer, Larkin, Owen Johnson, Alesi, DeFrancisco, Farley, Fuschillo, Golden, Hannon, Little, McDonald, Morahan, Volker, Winner.
NO: Flanagan, Griffo, Lanza, LaValle, Libous, Marcellino, Nozzolio, Robach, Saland, Seward, Young.