Charles G. Moerdler likes to make lists.
If you’ve ever listened to him speak at a Community Board 8 meeting or even talked to him in a casual conversation about politics, he has probably expressed his opinion in numerical or alphabetical order, or even a mix of both.
So when he was appointed to a six-year term on the 17-member Metropolitan Transit Authority Board of the State of New York, he slowly enumerated what talents he will bring to the job:
1. “I know labor relations.”
2. “I know finance”
3. “I’m creative”
Mr. Moerdler, 76, has lived in the Estate area of Riverdale with his wife, Pearl, since 1968. He has three children and nine grandchildren. His son Jeffrey sits on the Port Authority Board, making them a father/son duo of transportation. Mr. Moerdler has a long history of public service in New York City. Currently, he is: 1. a member of the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York; 2. a member of the New York City Housing Development Corporation; 3. a member of the New York City Board of Collective Bargaining; 4. vice chair of the Committee on Character and Fitness of Applications for Admission to the Bar Association; 5. a member of the Departmental Disciplinary Committee; 6. a trustee of St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx 7. co-chair of the Governing Council of the American Jewish Congress. He’s also: 8. chairman of Community Board 8’s Land Use Committee, a position that he says occupies more time than all his other positions combined. He fills all these roles and still finds time to put in a full day of work in as a partner for Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP.
Asked why he does so much, he did not use a long list to explain. He said simply, “I owe. And I’m prepared to try and repay.”
In a recent interview over apple pie and cappuccinos at Blue Bay on Johnson Avenue, Mr. Moerdler told his life story.
He was born in Paris to German parents who had fled their home country from the Nazis in 1934. When he was 6 months old, his family moved back to Germany based on extended family’s reports that it was safe. From 1935 to 1938, he lived in Germany and experienced intense discrimination.
In 1938, he fled with his mother and traveled around Europe for more than a year. At one point they were caught in crossfire between Poland and Germany. Ultimately, they were able to find refuge in England. He lived and schooled in England for seven years before journeying to the United States in 1946. Mr. Moerdler speaks with a slight English accent as a result.
Upon arrival, his family first lived in Newark, N.J, but settled on 100th Street between Park and Madison Avenues.
“I came to America wearing short pants and everybody would whistle at my legs. That was not very complimentary,” he said.
Mr. Moerdler said he used to take the 3rd Avenue “El” train to Seward Park High School in the Lower East Side one hour each way. No matter how cold or dirty the subway was then, he said always felt safe. That feeling is something he said he would like to revive for riders as a member of the MTA Board.
Mr. Moerdler graduated from Seward Park High School in 1950 and attended Long Island University, followed by Fordham Law School. It was in this phase of life that he first became acquainted with some of the family members of politicians who favored his recent appointment.
At LIU, he met a professor named Leonard Stravisky. Mr. Stravisky’s widow, state Sen. Toby Ann Stravisky, made the first motion to confirm his appointment. The motion was seconded by local state Sen. Eric Schneiderman, the son of Irwin Schneiderman, who is now the City’s attorney general and who Mr. Moerdler worked for during law school. While practicing law, Mr. Moerdler faced off with a man named Mario Cuomo and the two became good friends. His son, Governor Elect Andrew Cuomo, had to sign off on the nomination as well.
Mr. Moerdler may have longstanding ties to Democratic heavy hitters, but he once worked as an assistant campaign manager for Nelson Rockefeller and was registered as a Republican for many years. He registered as a Democrat during the George W. Bush years, he said.
“There really isn’t a party that fits a guy like me,” he said.
Because he disagrees with President Barack Obama’s handling of health care, he said, “This week, I’m a Republican.”
He plans to bring some of his “think outside the box” mentality to the MTA. Some of his thoughts for improving the troubled authority include:
1. Finding ways to generating revenue instead of cutting jobs and services. He wants to look into using MTA-owned land as a way for it to make money, mentioning property on Park Avenue as one possible spot.
2. Working on labor relations. He said the MTA has “the worst labor management.” Mr. Moerdler has represented the Sanitation Union since 1973, an experience he said would help him repair labor relations in the MTA.
3. Improving communication between the MTA and its users. He said he not only wants every subway station to have a countdown clock but bus stops should, too. He also said advisories should explain why the MTA does things instead of just how services will affect riders.
“The MTA is the key to the financial viability of this town,” he said. “If you do not have adequate mass transit, the people who live in the South Bronx can’t get to work, the people who live in Brooklyn can’t get to work, the kids can’t get to school and the whole thing falls apart. It’s the key,” he said.
Locally, Mr. Moerdler’s handling of SAR’s parking lot expansion plan in front of the Land Use committee has come under extreme scrutiny by neighbors who want CB 8 to reject its expansion proposal. Mr. Moerdler and the committee voted in favor of the plan. During the meetings, Mr. Moerdler expressed his feeling that the bigger parking issue needed to be handled by the Traffic and Transportation Committee and Land Use was limited to construction proposals. Since part of the problem is caused by the MTA’s MetroNorth station, Mr. Moerdler might be dragged back into the debate in another capacity.
In one last jab to try to tear down the man of a million lists, this reporter asked Mr. Moerdler the last time he rode on a subway.
“Today,” he said, smiling. Although he occasionally commutes by car to his office on Maiden Lane in the Financial District, he said he often takes MetroNorth to Grand Central and takes the subway downtown to his office.
“Would you like to see my MetroCard?” he asked.