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Will Michael Grimm Reject the House GOP Attack on His Constituents?

3:24 PM EST on February 9, 2012

Staten Island Congressman Michael Grimm touts his support for transit on his website and represents a district where 38 percent of people take transit to work. Will he support the anti-transit, anti-urban House transportation bill? Image:

It isn't only Democrats blasting the House Republican transportation bill, which would eliminate dedicated federal transit funding, cost the MTA up to $1 billion a year and slash bicycle and pedestrian funding. In the transit-dependent New York region, some Republicans are balking at the ferociously anti-urban legislation. But many of their colleagues remain studiously silent.

Newly elected Republican Congressman Bob Turner, who represents parts of Queens and Brooklyn, said in a statement that he wouldn't vote for any bill that doesn't allow New York City to meet its own infrastructure needs, which include mass transit. Long Island Representative Peter King, the senior-most Republican from the New York delegation, is also expressing some serious doubts about the Republican legislation.

But most of New York's Republican congressmen, including some who present themselves as strong supporters of transit, are staying curiously silent. These are politicians who should, based on their districts and history, oppose what Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, himself a former House Republican, described as "the worst transportation bill I’ve ever seen during 35 years of public service."

Few Republicans should be more opposed to the House transportation bill than Staten Island representative Michael Grimm. In Grimm's district, which includes parts of Brooklyn, a full 38 percent of people take transit to work, according to the Census. "Knowing the importance of safe roads and efficient public transportation, improving New York’s transit system is of the utmost importance to me," Grimm writes on his official House website. Grimm also says he wants to see light rail across the Bayonne Bridge.

New Jersey representative Rodney Frelinghuysen represents fewer transit riders than Grimm, but NJ Transit is critical to the prosperity of his Morris County district. Frelinghuysen ostensibly recognizes that, promising to "continue to work to secure annual Federal funding for vital public transportation, rail, and road efforts" on his House site, and boasting of six different rail projects he has supported. If he votes for the House transportation bill, though, he'll be jeopardizing the federal transit funding he has pledged to secure.

Neither Grimm nor Frelinghuysen's offices have responded to Streetsblog inquiries about the transportation bill.

Not all area Republicans are being so timid, however. In a letter sent to the top Republican and Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, Turner specified exactly what his urban district needs, including both transit funding and pedestrian safety programs. "The City's ability to continue to serve as home to 45 Fortune 500 companies -- more than double the number of the next three U.S. cities combined, is dependent on maintaining and improving its unique public transportation network," he wrote. He also celebrated federal support for projects that have reduced traffic fatalities for senior and child pedestrians.

"We cannot underestimate the importance of providing efficient, safe, mass transit, roads, bridges and tunnels to the people who live and commute in New York City," said Turner in his statement. "As this bill evolves, I will continue to work with my colleagues both in Congress and New York to find the best approach in meeting our infrastructure needs. However, I will not support any bill that does not allow New York City to sufficiently meet those needs.”

More than 46 percent of Turner's constituents take transit to work.

King, too, is focused on the harm the House bill would do to the region's transit system. "The congressman has serious concerns about this legislation and the impact it will have on mass transit both on Long Island and New York City," a spokesperson told Crain's earlier this week.

A regional consensus is starting to form that the House transportation bill would be a disaster for the entire New York metro area. The New York Times, the New York Daily News, and the Newark Star-Ledger have all editorialized against the House transportation bill. "This monstrosity must die," wrote the News. "Uniquely terrible," said the Times.

MTA chief Joe Lhota, himself a Republican, called the bill "the worst piece of legislation you could ever imagine."

Across the region, Republicans represent constituents dependent on commuter rail lines and suburban bus systems. In Nan Hayworth's district in New York's northern suburbs, seven percent of people take transit to work, many on the Metro-North railroad lines that are vital links to Manhattan. Around eight percent of Leonard Lance's New Jersey constituents commute via transit. That's tens of thousands of voters.

Neither Hayworth nor Lance's offices have responded to Streetsblog inquiries, nor have the offices of Republicans Chris Gibson, Scott Garrett, Frank LoBiondo or Chris Smith.

Perhaps the region's Republicans are still deciding whether to vote with their transit-riding constituents or cave to the Republican leadership.

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