By David Cruz
He may run a $2 billion mass transit agency, but NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein’s announced departure went largely unnoticed among passengers. But Weinstein’s resignation — effective March 1 — ends a tumultuous four-year tenure that began with a 25 percent fare hike. But it will probably be most remembered for decisions made over the past two years. Weinstein took responsibility for the decision to leave more than 300 trains and locomotives in vulnerable low-lying areas during Sandy in 2012.
“While we took extraordinary steps to mitigate potential harm, nonetheless, the system suffered extraordinary damage to critical bridges, electrical substations, track and signal systems, rolling stock and key terminals,” explained Weinstein before a U.S. Senate committee.
Even critics gave Weinstein credit for taking the hit on Sandy, but support was scarce when he tried to explain away the agency’s handling of the crowds after the Super Bowl.
“We think it was a success, the first mass transit Super Bowl,” Weinstein told NJTV earlier this month. “We moved 28,000 people to the game during the afternoon and 32,000 people in the evening. There was a queue there. It took us a couple of hours to get all of the people out of there.”
But Assembly Transportation Committee Chair John Wisniewski was less generous. “It was an opportunity for New Jersey to shine. It was an opportunity for New Jersey to show we could move people to the Super Bowl by train,” he said. “We failed miserably. We need to understand why that failure happened.”
But almost everyone we spoke to had high praise for Weinstein, the person, agreeing that he was responsive and respectful. It’s his boss, Gov. Chris Christie, who came in for criticism over the agency’s performance. Former Gov. Dick Codey said Christie had too heavy a hand in how the agency functioned day to day.
“It looks like this governor was, as they say, micromanaging everything,” he said. “I don’t know how he had all that time, understanding what he was doing in terms of his national persona and traveling across the country.”
The governor named current state Transportation Commissioner Veronique Hakim to succeed Weinstein. Philip Craig is vice president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers. He has high hopes for Hakim.
“She may be able to be more persuasive with the governor,” he said. “I know her for working several months as a consultant working for the MTA Capital construction company. I have a great deal of respect for her and look forward to her being a breath of fresh air.”
Weinstein wasn’t available for comment today. In his announcement, he made no reference to his future plans, other than to say “it was time” to go.
When it comes to managing this agency, said one source, there’s your agenda and there’s the governor’s agenda, adding, there’s more to the job than getting the trains to run on time.