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Mayor de Blasio Nominates Victor Calise to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board

February 10, 2020

NEW YORK—Mayor de Blasio today nominated Victor Calise for appointment to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Board. Calise has served as the Commissioner of the New York City Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities since 2012, and is a recognized expert on accessibility. As Commissioner, Calise is responsible for ensuring that New Yorkers with disabilities have equal access to everything that the City has to offer.

"Victor's relentless pursuit to make New York City the most accessible place in the world is exactly the type of ardent leadership we need on the MTA Board," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "Victor believes in his heart that it is our civic and moral duty to make our subways, buses and Access-A-Ride services more inclusive for everyone. From his rich personal history and longtime advocacy for the disability community, Victor will make a great addition to this Board."

"I am honored to be nominated to the MTA Board by Mayor de Blasio," said Victor Calise, Commissioner of the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities. "To be the only person with a self-disclosed disability currently on the MTA Board is an important responsibility that I will not take lightly. I look forward to working with the Governor's Office and the State Senate on my confirmation and pledge to advocate for a transit system that works well for everyone—including the millions of New Yorkers and visitors who have intellectual/developmental, vision, hearing or physical disabilities."

Speaker Corey Johnson said: "Victor is a great guy, and I look forward to working with him to improve our mass transit system. We desperately need to improve the accessibility of our subways, and I know Victor will be a strong voice for this issue. Also, Victor's a New Yorker, so I know he will push the Board to focus more on the needs of bus and subway riders, which is a priority of mine as well. I urge the State Senate to confirm him swiftly."

"I congratulate Commissioner Calise on this important nomination and commend Mayor de Blasio on his choice. This sends a strong message to our community that all voices will be heard when it comes to decisions regarding our public transportation, and it will ensure there is someone on the MTA's board who has the necessary expertise to prioritize making the entire transit system accessible to all," said Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13).

"The riding public will have a fierce and thoughtful advocate in Commissioner Calise," New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said. "He has shown his creativity in identifying solutions for challenging issues and giving a voice to those who have been sidelined, including those in the disability community. I praise Mayor de Blasio for this smart appointment and look forward to working with Commissioner Calise in this new capacity."

"I applaud the Mayor's decision to appoint Commissioner Calise to the MTA Board," said Assembly member Harvey Epstein. "Commissioner Calise, understands the needs the disability community has around public transportation. We look forward to his leadership making the transit system accessible for all New Yorkers."

"I am pleased that the Mayor has nominated Victor Calise, Commissioner of the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, to the MTA Board," said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon. "I have known and worked with Commissioner Calise for a long time. His professionalism and experience will enable him to contribute greatly to the MTA Board. Commissioner Calise's lived experience and understanding of the nuance and complexities of transit riders with disabilities will be a boon for both the MTA and the straphangers that rely on public transportation every day. I hope that the Governor approves this nomination quickly so that residents of New York City are properly represented at the MTA."

"Victor Calise is an outstanding choice for the MTA Board. As Commissioner of the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, Commissioner Calise has been an outstanding advocate for accessibility and under his leadership, New York has made significant progress in improving access across the city," said Assemblyman David I. Weprin. "As part of the MTA's leadership, I am sure that Commissioner Calise will continue his work to improve access, this time for our city's buses and subways; and I fully support his nomination to the MTA Board."

"I am delighted that the Mayor has selected Victor Calise to serve on the MTA Board. His knowledge of what is needed in our transportation system, along with his outspoken advocacy will make him an invaluable Board Member," said Borough President Gale A. Brewer.

"I am happy hear about the Mayors nominee for the MTA board, Commissioner for the Mayor's office for People with Disabilities, Victor Calise. He is someone I have worked with for years leading many important initiatives at the Council," said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Chairman of the Transportation Committee. "As Chairman of the Transportation Committee, I will continue working with the administration, MTA board, and my colleagues at the City Council to ensure we make all stations accessible by 2024."

"Commissioner Calise has spent his career advocating for people with disabilities and fighting to make New York City more accessible. His experience, leadership, and unwavering commitment to the disability community makes him an excellent pick for the MTA Board. I look forward to the contributions he will make in this role on behalf of all New Yorkers," said Council Member Diana Ayala, Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction.

"Victor Calise's appointment to the MTA Board is a profoundly important step forward for accessibility in New York City. We will never be truly 'accessible' until every New Yorker is able to use all aspects of our mass transit system. Victor has been a tremendous champion as Commissioner of the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, and we welcome his leadership within the MTA," said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

"Mayor de Blasio's nomination of MOPD Commissioner Victor Calise, who has a visible disability, is unprecedented and recognizes the crucial work the MTA and City must do together to make the entire transportation network truly accessible," said Joe Rappaport, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled. "Commissioner Calise has plenty of work to do, whether it's making sure subway elevators are installed and maintained, preserving bus stops, or expanding on-demand Access-A-Ride without the onerous restrictions the MTA is proposing. We look forward to working with him."

"Victor Calise will make an excellent addition to the MTA Board and we look forward to his advocacy, especially on behalf of riders with disabilities," said Nick Sifuentes, Executive Director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "The Senate and the governor should quickly approve the City's nominees so that the MTA has a full board and they can get to work."

"United Spinal Association has always been a leader in advocating for safe, adequate and accessible mass transit. In that spirit, we support Mayor de Blasio's nomination of our member, Victor Calise, for a position on the MTA Board without reservation, qualification, or hesitation, knowing that he lives the challenges faced by people with disabilities, who work, live and visit New York," said James Weisman, President/CEO, United Spinal Association. "Mr. Calise will make the MTA Board more representative of New York's residents and, by his presence and persuasion, the system more accessible to and more usable by more people—including those with mobility, cognitive and sensory disabilities."

"The New York City's chapter of United Spinal Association supports Mayor de Blasio's nomination of Victor Calise for a position on the MTA Board," said Jose Hernandez, President of the New York City Chapter of United Spinal Association. "Over his long career in public service, Victor has been a champion for inclusion and I am confident that he will continue to be a powerful advocate for safe, adequate and accessible mass transit for all New Yorkers. As a person with a disability myself, I am thrilled that Mayor de Blasio has chosen to nominate a person with a disability to bring diversity and accessibility to the forefront."

"Disability advocates have been calling for a person with a disability to be nominated to the MTA Board and we strongly support the Mayor's selection of MOPD Commissioner Victor Calise," said Edith M. Prentiss, Chair of the Taxis for All Campaign. "Under Commissioner Calise, MOPD has grown in size and function to further support the independence of people with disabilities. He has ably advocated on our behalf with the MTA to improve mass transit accessibility as well as Access-A-Ride and has also worked with the Taxi and Limousine Commission to ensure accessible taxis and for-hire vehicles for our community. He has been committed to increasing disability employment and financial empowerment in conjunction with other agencies, recognizing that the need for more accessible transportation is a critical aspect to the success of these programs. I am confident that Commissioner Calise will be an excellent advocate for the disability community and the City on the MTA Board."

"It's no exaggeration to say that all New Yorkers should be able to ride our subways and buses. By bringing his experience and expertise to the MTA, Victor Calise will help make that happen," said Riders Alliance Policy & Communications Director Danny Pearlstein. "While the governor controls the MTA, the mayor's appointees have been strong, independent voices on issues important to riders. Thanks to Mayor de Blasio for making such an historic choice. Now it's up to the governor and Senate to confirm Victor to his post."

"It is no secret that the MTA has serious accessibility issues from lack of subway access, elevator maintenance at subway stations, and serious issues at Access A Ride just to name a few. People with disabilities need representation and advocacy at the MTA where there is very little," said Brett L. Eisenberg, Executive Director of Bronx Independent Living Services. "We support the Mayor's nomination of Commissioner Victor Calise. Victor has created innovative approaches to help people with disabilities participate more fully in all the city has to offer and as a person with a physical disability he understands firsthand the struggles we all face in trying to access public transportation. We hope MTA leadership will seek out his input and ideas when making decisions that greatly have an impact on the lives of people with disabilities. We look forward to continuing to work with Victor and ensuring that all people with disabilities are treated equally and fairly as it is the only way we can all enjoy this great city."

"As the Executive Director of the Staten Island Center for Independent Living, I have heard an abundance of complaints from the disability community about MTA services. New York City has a serious accessibility problem with uneven platforms, elevators out of order and/or not available at train stations. I believe that Commissioner Calise, will continue to advocate for the disability community on the MTA Board," said Michelle Sabatino, Executive Director of the Staten Island Center for Independent Living.

"Commissioner Calise will serve as the sole current MTA Board member with a self-disclosed disability," said Colin Wright, senior advocacy associate, TransitCenter. "Given the scale of accessibility investment underway at the MTA, the Board will be far better positioned to perform its oversight duties with Commissioner Calise in place. Governor Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins should quickly act on Commissioner Calise's nomination."

"ICS applauds the nomination of MOPD Commissioner Victor Calise to the MTA Board," said Independence Care System (ICS) President and CEO Rick Surpin. "Victor lives and works in New York City, using public transit to enjoy all the city has to offer. He will represent a constituency that has traditionally been overlooked in transportation planning and project implementation. Accessible, affordable transportation is crucial in order for people with disabilities to live independent lives in the community. Victor's perspective as a wheelchair user, an advocate, a government official and a resident will enrich the Board's discussions, raise awareness of the barriers people with disabilities face and hopefully help bring about much needed changes in services for wheelchair users and other people with disabilities."

ICS COO Regina Estela added, "Having a representative with a disability on the MTA Board means that someone with a lived experience will be able to weigh in as the MTA builds new stations, renovates the existing infrastructure, introduces new technology and develops transportation programs that meet the unique needs of New Yorkers with physical disabilities."

"Commissioner Victor Calise has demonstrated his immense talent for organizational accomplishment and supporting solid disability civil rights issues for years. Critical to successfully living in our metropolitan area is our crucial need to have accessible, reliable and timely mass transit available to us, the disability community, said John D. Kemp, President & CEO of The Viscardi Center and President of the Henry Viscardi School. "Victor knows the intersection of employment, transportation, health care, education and full community life for all people, including people with disabilities. Victor's nomination gives the millions of us with disabilities living here in the NYC metropolitan area confidence that our voices will be heard and progress on all accessibility fronts will be made."

"Commissioner Calise has been a steadfast advocate for New Yorkers with disabilities. He has long educated transportation planners in how to be better at serving New Yorkers equitably," said Sarah M. Kaufman, Associate Director of the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation and Adjunct Professor of Planning. "I am thrilled that he will now serve as an MTA Board Member; he will certainly heighten the discussion around both short and long-term improvements to public transportation in our region."

"New York Lawyers for the Public Interest is grateful that the Mayor has heard the plea of disability rights advocates to name a person with disabilities to the MTA Board. We are confident that MOPD Commissioner Victor Calise will strongly advocate for MTA services that appropriately serve the entire disability community, focusing on the need for installing and maintaining elevators in inaccessible subway stations, and ensuring that the Access-A-Ride On-Demand pilot is expanded without service caps," said Ruth Lowenkron, Director of the Disability Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

"Mayor de Blasio has made an excellent selection in nominating Commissioner Calise to the MTA Board. New York City's streets and transit must be safe and accessible for all," said Danny Harris, Executive Director, Transportation Alternatives. "Commissioner Calise has been an ally in the fight for safe streets, including helping bring speed safety cameras to dangerous streets near city schools. We look forward to continuing our work in support of his and others' efforts on the MTA board to make our city's transit system efficient, accessible and equitable for all New Yorkers."

“Disabled In Action is pleased that Mayor de Blasio appointed a person with a disability to the MTA Board. It is past time our interests are represented, and we are looking forward to Commissioner Calise's representation of us as we work with him on issues affecting us like subway access and Access-A-Ride,” said Jean Ryan, President of Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York.

"We applaud Mayor de Blasio for nominating Victor Calise to the MTA Board. As Commissioner of the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, and a wheelchair user himself, Commissioner Calise knows firsthand the challenges disabled persons face in using MTA subways, buses, and trains," said Eric McClure, Executive Director of StreetsPAC. "We have so much more to do to make our transit system fully accessible, and Victor Calise will surely give voice to the needs of the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are currently being left behind by the MTA. We urge Governor Cuomo and Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins to confirm his appointment to the Board without delay."

"As President of the Hearing Loss Association's New York City Chapter, I have worked closely with Commissioner Calise over the past five years. He has been unfailingly responsive, open and understanding of our needs, and proactive in providing some accommodations we hadn't even thought to ask for," said Katherine Bouton, President of the New York City Chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America. "Hearing loss -- as opposed to Deafness -- is an invisible disability and is often overlooked. Accommodations are more complicated than simply providing an ASL interpreter. Commissioner Calise understands that, and so does his excellent staff. As a member of the Advisory Committee for Transit Accessibility, led by MTA New York City Transit's Senior Advisor for Systemwide Accessibility Alex Elegudin, I am aware of the many disability issues facing the MTA. Victor Calise would be an invaluable member of the MTA Board."

"Lighthouse Guild congratulates Commissioner Calise on this important appointment. We look forward to working with him on ensuring the needs of people with vision loss and other disabilities are incorporated into the MTA's policies," said Alan R. Morse, JD, PhD, President and CEO of Lighthouse Guild.

"Commissioner Calise's nomination to the MTA Board means that people with disabilities will have a voice at the table. Ensuring that the disability community is a part of the conversation and the planning from the beginning is the first step towards a fully accessible system," said Barbara Glassman, Executive Director of INCLUDEnyc, a non-profit helping young people with disabilities, their families, and professionals navigate special education and disability services. "As a long-time advocate, Victor Calise has been at the forefront of physical accessibility issues in our schools and workplaces. Commissioner Calise has excelled at bringing people and agencies together to make our City more accessible for everyone. We welcome his leadership on the MTA Board," Glassman added.

"For New Yorkers who receive services from YAI — many of whom commute every day to jobs, medical appointments, and family visits — today is a great day," said George Contos, Chief Executive Officer of YAI. "Our friend Victor Calise has been an outspoken ally of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We are delighted he will be a decision maker at the MTA."

"Commissioner Calise is a respected expert on and effective advocate for people with disabilities. He is innovative, passionate and determined to help create jobs and make New York City the most accessible city in the world," said Allison Kleinman, director of The Jack and Shirley Silver Center for Special Needs at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan.

"I am so pleased to hear that the Mayor is appointing Victor Calise to the MTA Board. It is great that a person with a disability will be on the Board representing the needs of people with disabilities," said Jaclyn Okin Barney, an attorney and the Coordinator of Parents for Inclusive Education (PIE). "I have worked with Victor over the years and he is a strong advocate for people with disabilities. I am sure he will do a terrific job ensuring all New Yorkers have equal access to the MTA."

"Commissioner Calise is a smart and thoughtful advocate who will ensure that all are represented on the MTA Board and have a voice in the operations of our transit systems," said Fredda Rosen, Executive Director of Job Path.

“We welcome Mayor de Blasio’s choice of Commissioner Calise for the MTA board,” stated Kim Zimmer, President and CEO of Helen Keller Services. “At a time when the city is striving to make its subways, buses and Access-A-Ride service more inclusive for everyone, Commissioner Calise will be a strong advocate for those with disabilities. I’m confident his voice on the MTA board will help make New York City more accessible for blind and low-vision men, women, and young people who depend so strongly on public transportation.”

“VISIONS is delighted that Victor Calise has been nominated by the Mayor to the MTA Board. Accessible, reliable transportation is the key to independence and employment for people with disabilities. Victor's voice on the Board is an important addition,” said Nancy D. Miller, Executive Director/CEO VISIONS/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

About Victor Calise

As Commissioner of the New York City Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, Victor Calise has been an advocate for people with disabilities in both the Bloomberg and de Blasio Administrations. Responsible for ensuring that New York City is the most accessible city in the world, Calise advises the Mayor and agency partners on accessibility issues, spearheads public-private partnerships, and chairs the Accessibility Committee of the City's Building Code.

Commissioner Calise began his City service working with the Capital Projects Division of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation where he led efforts to make one of the largest and most complex parks systems in the world accessible by ensuring compliance with construction standards, managing facilities, and developing training materials. Prior to working in New York City government, he was a disability advocate in the non-profit sector.

Commissioner Calise has facilitated relationships with businesses in a myriad of sectors including technology, finance, government, and healthcare. Understanding the importance of increasing diversity in the workforce, his leadership led to the creation of the NYC:ATWORK employment initiative—the first public-private partnership that directly connects jobseekers with disabilities and businesses. Realizing the ever-evolving nature of technological advancements, he also consistently engages with innovators in fields including digital accessibility, communications, and autonomous vehicle development.

A recognized expert on disability, the Commissioner regularly consults with high-level public and private stakeholders about inclusive best practices. He is frequently invited to national and international conferences and has given numerous keynote speeches including in Italy, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates. Often networking with representatives from around the world, Commissioner Calise supports the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and works to ensure that all people realize the full spectrum of their human and civil rights.

The Commissioner received a B.S. in Sports Management from St. John's University and an M.A. in Urban Affairs from Queens College, CUNY. Calise—an avid athlete—competed in the 1998 Paralympic Games in Nagano, Japan as a member of the first U.S. national sled hockey team. Calise was born and raised in Ozone Park, Queens and currently lives on the Upper West Side with his wife and two daughters.

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