Report: Finch could lose N.Y. State Thruway Authority post

June 6, 2017

He’s been a most unlikely face of one of the largest public works projects in the nation, often seen donning a hard hat as the New NY Bridge rises from the Hudson River.

But the year-long run of former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch as the head of the agency in charge of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement — seen as a curious appointment for mass transit-oriented politician — appears to be at a crossroads.

Finch has been the subject of growing speculation that he could be replaced as executive director of the New York State Thruway Authority and shifted to an environmental role in the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The reshuffling by Cuomo, first reported by Politico New York, is the culmination of a year of unanswered questions as to how Finch scored one of the most visible infrastructure roles in the U.S. Cuomo’s transportation commissioner, Matthew Driscoll, has been identified as Finch’s heir apparent by the publication.

A Thruway Authority spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter Tuesday.

Multiple requests for comment were left for Finch, who still resides in Bridgeport with his family. A request for comment was also left for Cuomo’s office, which raised eyebrows last June when it tapped Finch for the $175,000-a-year post.

It marked the return to the public sector for Finch, who lost his 2015 re-election bid to the city’s once-imprisoned ex-mayor, Joe Ganim, a fellow Democrat. Known more for his “green” mantra as mayor of Connecticut’s largest city, including an affinity for biking to work, Finch took over a highway network that extends from the Pennsylvania border to the Bronx in New York City.

Finch’s close associates say that his skill set is more naturally aligned with an environmental role, especially now that Donald Trump has opted to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

“I think with the federal government’s refusal to honor the Paris agreement, it puts much more of the onus on the states to deliver for the environment,” said Thomas McCarthy, Bridgeport’s city council president. “Bill Finch is perfectly situated for that type of work and I’m pretty sure Governor Cuomo will be a leader on it.”

Finch’s former mayoral spokesman, Brett Broesder, said Finch could be a key player on the environment for Cuomo.

“In light of the governor taking a national leadership role in the Paris Climate Agreement debate, having Bill Finch -- a former mayor who is best known as a champion for creating green jobs and beating back climate change -- on your team is very helpful,” Broesder said.

Since he appointment last June, Finch has split time between the city he led from 2007 to 2015 and an apartment in Rensselaer, N.Y., near the state capital of Albany. He transferred his voter registration and fishing license there. On social media, Finch often posts photos showing the progress of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, a $4 billion span that is expected to open in 2018.

In charge of a $2.1 billion annual budget, 2,312 full-time employees and 570 miles of roadway that he often characterized as a “linear city,” Finch is one of several former mayors with high-profile jobs in the Cuomo administration. Driscoll is the former Syracuse, N.Y., mayor. The New York State Canal Corp., which was once connected to the Thruway Authority and responsible for waterways such as the Erie Canal, is led by former Schnectady, N.Y., Mayor Brian Stratton.

Questions about Finch’s future started to arise last week, when he was spotted at the Capitol in Hartford — not Albany. Finch was lobbying on behalf of a bill to make adoption records available to Connecticut residents born before 1983. Finch has long pressed the state to release the records to adoptees like himself, going back to his tenure as a state senator, when a bill he sponsored passed the Legislature but was vetoed by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

nvigdor@hearstmediact.com; 203-625-4436; http://twitter.com/gettinviggy