KINGSBRIDGE — A political tug o' war erupted at a Manhattan bus depot Wednesday over whether or not workers could lower the American flag to half-staff on only the mayor's say-so to honor the fallen FDNY chief killed in a Bronx explosion.
Mayor Bill de Blasio put out an order Tuesday afternoon requiring all flags to be flown at half-staff in tribute to FDNY Battalion Chief Michael Fahy, who was killed that morning after a marijuana grow house exploded.
Workers at the Kingsbridge Bus Depot in Manhattan lowered their flag Wednesday morning, according to the Transport Workers Union, Local 100, but managers ordered them to raise it back up under threat of suspension because they were told only the governor can order flags lowered at MTA facilities, Director of Maintenance and Operating Authority Thomas Lenane said.
"We’re not going to do it," he said, of raising the flag all the way. "We’re not going to disrespect the firefighters by doing it."
"[MTA management is] saying that they don’t take direction from the mayor, so whether it's political between them and the mayor, I don’t know," he continued. "I’m dumbfounded as to the position they’ve taken on this one."
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz blamed the controversy on a "miscommunication at the bus depot level" and said flags at all agency locations would be flown at half-staff out of respect for Fahy.
"In honor of the fallen FDNY Battalion Chief, Michael Fahy, who was killed yesterday in the line of duty, flags at all MTA facilities are being flown at half-staff until further notice," he said in a statement.
Although Lenane said he was grateful the flags could be lowered now in honor of Fahy, he was skeptical that the problem had been based solely on a miscommunication at the depot level and was frustrated that the controversy had arisen in the first place.
"I’m happy that it got done," he said. "I’m really disheartened that the transit authority would have taken this position in the beginning. I mean, why did it have to go to this length in order to honor someone?"
MTA workers Mark Massa and Tim Reilly said they are responsible for raising and lowering the depot's flag, and Massa said that keeping it at half mast was the right thing to do.
"How would you feel if it was your husband?" Massa asked. "I mean, the guy lost his life, and they’re telling us to disrespect the firefighters. We don’t think it’s right. So we took a stand."
TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen blamed the controversy on "brainless bureaucrats" in a statement but said that "when workers stand shoulder to shoulder, we win."