I'm curious as to whether it was the first-ever decision for John Durso Jr. as NYRA's new Director of Communications and Media Relations to have the press release announcing his hiring sent out via email at 4:17 on a 4th of July which fell on a Friday to lead off a big summer holiday weekend. There surely can't be more than one or two better times and days this year to put out a press release that you don't want anyone to see. That would make sense from the perspective of John Durso, Jr. He might not want to have to answer all those questions about how his prior job as Senior Director and Chief Spokesperson for NJ Transit would possibly make him qualified for this position.
Well, in the press release, Durso tells us that he is familiar with the sport.
"As a native Long Islander who grew up with live racing at Belmont and the former Roosevelt Raceway, and as a longtime Capital District resident who spent numerous summers at Saratoga, the chance to join this world-renowned thoroughbred franchise is the thrill of a lifetime."And, as it turns out, Durso is actually not without relevant experience for this job. After all, his term at NJ Transit included the Super Bowl at the Meadowlands earlier this year, when a crush of fans attempting to get to and from the game via the railroad made for a mass transit nightmare. Sound familiar? As opposed to the Belmont Stakes, after which most of the complaints concerned leaving the events, the biggest Super Bowl crush came as fans packed Secaucus Junction station to board trains, after passing through security, headed for the game. It seems as if NJ Transit vastly underestimated the amount of fans who would be taking the train despite the urging of stadium and public officials to do so. At least one writer, Star Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine, anticipated the crush.
In December, Clift accompanied me as I took a look at that rail link on a ride to the season’s final Giants game. It didn’t look good, and afterward I phoned NJ Transit spokesman John Durso Jr. and asked him how the agency would handle Super Bowl-sized crowds.Oops. It was widely reported that several people collapsed while waiting in sweltering, overcrowded conditions.
Durso insisted ridership would be only about 12,000, compared with about 8,000 for a regular game. NJ Transit officials stuck with that 12,000 figure, stating that at most it might reach 15,000. The real number turned out to exceed 30,000.
Witnesses reported seeing emergency medical workers pushed their way through the overheated crowd to treat the people at the station Sunday.Durso and NJ Transit, however, steadfastly denied that anybody needed medical attention. What's more, Durso "dismissed questions" as to what NJ Transit might have done better; and, in a rather impressive and brazen display of PR chutzpah, he emphasized that NJ Transit had set a new record “by safely and efficiently” transporting 32,900 customers by rail from MetLife Stadium to Secaucus Junction. [The Record]
As more trains arrived, police tried to thin the sweating, jostling crowd by spreading people across the platform. Initial fan calls of “Seahawks” and “Broncos” gave way to angry shouts of “New Jersey, your Super Bowl sucks!” [WCBS News]
I would guess that some people would disagree with that assessment.
Brown, director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University, said that when he exited the stadium, he found himself standing in front of an enormous crowd with no clear plan and no one to direct them. “People started screaming ‘Can somebody help us!” Brown said. “It was horrifying.”Try as I may, I cannot find any statement from NJ Transit apologizing or expressing regret at the ordeal that some fans had to endure. Given the lack of any comment of that sort from NYRA management following the Belmont, it would seem that Durso will fit right in.
So it looks like NYRA has its man. (As in, man. White man. Chief Experience Officer Lynn LaRocca is the only woman to be hired as an executive since the now all-white male New NYRA board was appointed.) Of course, his above statement about the Super Bowl calls his press release quote into question. After all, he only says that he grew up on Long Island where there was live racing at Belmont and Roosevelt, not that he actually went there; and that he spent summers at Saratoga. He could be talking about going to see the Philadelphia Orchestra at SPAC for all we know. In any event, his hiring comes about a month too late. Had Durso been around during the Belmont, perhaps he would have told us of the safe and efficient experience provided by NYRA and the MTA, pointing out that nobody died.