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Ferguson says he sees no problems with Wiedefeld confirmation

Paul Wiedefeld is introduced as the Moore administration’s transportation secretary Tuesday. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s top Senate Democrat said concerns about Gov. Wes Moore’s pick to lead the Department of Transportation shouldn’t derail his confirmation.

Moore Tuesday announced the nomination of Paul Wiedefeld to lead the department he left nearly a decade ago. Senate President Bill Ferguson said Wiedefeld’s time in Washington, D.C., and concerns about the safety of the transit system there are not a cause for concern.

“It’s nothing that I feel is disqualifying in any way,” Ferguson said during a meeting with reporters Friday morning. “I want to make sure that I understand his full scope of his background in history. I overall feel very positively about him. I’ve heard great things.”

Wiedefeld was nominated Tuesday to be Moore’s transportation secretary. He is not on the list of nominations to come before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee when that panel meets on Monday for the first time in the 2023 session. 

Moore made public transportation one of his key issues during the campaign. By extension, Wiedefeld becomes the new governor’s transportation champion.

If confirmed, Wiedefeld would lead an agency in transition. The Purple Line is mired in ongoing delays. There are also proposals to build a new span across the Chesapeake Bay and toll lane expansions of the Capital Beltway. 

Moore also wants to resurrect an east-west transit line in Baltimore that Hogan killed in 2015, calling it a “boondoggle.”

Wiedefeld returns to a transportation agency he left eight years ago. From 2007-2009, he served as administrator of the Maryland Transit Authority. He also twice led the Maryland Aviation Administration, from 2002-2005 and again from 2009-2015.

Following the election of Republican Larry Hogan, Wiedefeld left and took over as general manager and chief executive officer of the District’s transit authority. It’s his time leading the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority,  which includes the third-largest subway system in the nation, that engendered murmurs when his likely nomination by Moore became public earlier this month.

Wiedefeld received high marks from union leaders for his efforts to keep employees safe during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he also clashed with Hogan and then-Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn. The state sends millions to the Metro system. Rahn and Hogan withheld money over concerns about how the system was managed.

Wiedefeld’s time there was also marked by scathing reports highlighting safety and training issues in the system. He ultimately left his job 45 days before a scheduled retirement. The departure came days after a report last spring that raised those safety concerns.

Moore earlier this week said he had fully vetted Wiedefeld. And while he didn’t address the safety concerns directly, the new governor gave a full-throated endorsement of his transportation leader.

Ferguson offered similar assurances.

“I’ve met him certainly many times in the past, but we’ve never worked on projects together,” said Ferguson. “I look forward to getting to know him better as we move forward. Because right now, investments in transportation are going be one of the most important priorities that the state of Maryland has. And so the transportation secretary is an incredibly, incredibly important role.

“And I am very confident in the Moore administration’s vetting. They have done a phenomenal job of attracting great people thus far. I feel comfortable moving forward and of course, look forward to the conversations with a nominated secretary.”