ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s top Senate Democrat said concerns about Gov. Wes Moore’s election to head the Department of Transportation should not derail his confirmation.
Moore Tuesday announced the appointment of Paul Wiedefeld as head of the department, which he left nearly a decade ago. Senate President Bill Ferguson said Wiedefeld’s time in Washington, DC, and concerns about the security of the transit system there were not a cause for concern.
“It’s not something that I think is disqualifying in any way,” Ferguson said during a meeting with reporters Friday morning. “I want to make sure I understand his full background in the story. Overall I have a very positive attitude towards him. I’ve heard great things.”
Wiedefeld was appointed as Moore’s transport minister on Tuesday. He is not on the list of nominations coming before the nominating committee of the Senate Executive Committee when that committee meets for the first time in the 2023 session on Monday.
Moore made public transport one of his main themes during the campaign. By extension, Wiedefeld becomes the transport master of the new governor.
If confirmed, Wiedefeld would lead an agency in transition. The Washington Metro’s Purple Line has been hit by persistent delays. There are also proposals to construct a new span across the Chesapeake Bay and extensions of the Capital Beltway toll lanes.
Moore also wants to revive an east-west transit line in Baltimore that Hogan killed in 2015, calling it a “boondoggle.”
Wiedefeld returns to a transport company he left eight years ago. From 2007 to 2009 he was Administrator of the Maryland Transit Authority. He also twice headed the Maryland Aviation Administration, from 2002 to 2005 and again from 2009 to 2015.
After Republican Larry Hogan was elected, Wiedefeld left the company and assumed the position of general manager and chief executive officer of the district’s transit agency. It’s his time to head up the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, That includes the nation’s third-busiest subway system, which caused a stir when news of his likely nomination by Moore emerged earlier this month.
Wiedefeld received high marks from union leaders for his efforts to keep workers safe during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he also clashed with Hogan and then-Transport Secretary Pete Rahn. The state sends millions to the metro system. Rahn and Hogan withheld money over concerns about the administration of the system.
Wiedefeld’s time there was also marked by scathing reports highlighting security and training issues in the system. He eventually quit his job 45 days before a planned retirement. The departure came days after a report last spring raising those safety concerns.
Moore said earlier this week he had fully reviewed Wiedefeld. And while he didn’t directly address the safety concerns, the new governor gave his transport leader a full-bodied endorsement.
Ferguson offered similar assurances.
“I’ve certainly met him many times in the past, but we’ve never worked on projects together,” Ferguson said. “I look forward to getting to know him better as we progress. For now, investing in transportation will be one of Maryland’s top priorities. And so the transport secretary is an incredibly, incredibly important role.
“And I have great faith in the Moore administration’s review. You’ve done a phenomenal job of attracting great people so far. I feel good about the future and of course I look forward to talking to a nominated secretary.”