News came yesterday afternoon that Governor Andrew Cuomo is changing leadership at the state Department of Transportation, replacing Joan McDonald with former Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll. Cuomo canned McDonald, who’s been on the job since 2011, over a dispute about snow removal in Buffalo, according to Jimmy Vielkind of Capital New York.
Driscoll might be familiar to Streetsblog readers for the role he played as president and CEO of the state Environmental Facilities Corporation. There, the Cuomo appointee was in charge of the administration’s request for a $511 million low-interest loan to finance construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge. The Environmental Protection Agency rejected most of the request, which would have used clean water funds on highway construction. It is currently tied up in litigation.
The Syracuse Post-Standard says Driscoll is Cuomo’s “go-to guy,” taking on tasks well beyond the scope of his job at the Environmental Facilities Corporation. Driscoll helped the governor “advise cash-strapped cities, lead storm recovery efforts in the Catskills, and help hire a New York State Fair director,” the paper reported.
In 2009, his last year as Syracuse mayor, the term-limited Driscoll endorsed Stephanie Miner to replace him, but the two have never been political allies, according to the Post-Standard. Miner’s relationship with Cuomo, meanwhile, is openly hostile.
All of which could complicate one of the biggest questions facing the state DOT today: whether to tear down Interstate 81 in downtown Syracuse or replace it with another highway. While Driscoll was ambivalent about the idea as mayor, Miner is a strong advocate of demolishing the expressway in favor of a surface boulevard.
Unlike McDonald, Driscoll does not have a background in transportation, though he would have had to deal with streets and transit issues as the executive of one of the state’s major cities. Driscoll’s most appealing attribute to the governor, however, probably isn’t those qualifications, but his track record as a loyal member of Team Cuomo.