The CUNY Chancellor Turns to TV Hosting
Good morning. It’s Friday. We’ll meet television’s newest talk show host, the chancellor of the City University of New York. We’ll also look at why plans to redevelop the area around Pennsylvania Station have been put on hold.
Chancellor Félix Matos Rodriguez on the set of his talk show, interviewing the physicist Michio Kaku.Credit…via The City University of New York
As the chancellor of the City University of New York, Félix Matos Rodriguez is accustomed to being a guest on television.
Now he is appearing as a host.
Matos Rodriguez, who goes by the nickname Felo, is the Phil Donahue or Larry King of “Café con Felo,” a talk show that premieres tonight on CUNY’s own television channel. It is part of a new lineup that will put more than 20 hours of new programming from CUNY on the air each week.
Besides “Café con Felo,” the new shows include “CUNY Uncut,” which grew out of CUNY’s first student podcast. The host is Hannah Kavanagh, who graduated from the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College last year and is also listed as the executive producer.
Much of the talk about television these days has to do with the rise of streaming services, but Matos Rodriguez said he decided to venture into broadcast television as a way of “showcasing the CUNY brand.” CUNY TV is seen on Channel 75 on Spectrum and Optimum cable systems in the five boroughs, on Channel 30 on Verizon Fios and on Chanel 77 on RCN. It also broadcasts over the air on Channel 25.3, which lets it reach suburban communities where it is not carried on cable systems.
Matos Rodriguez’s guest on the first episode of “Café con Felo,” to be broadcast tonight at 8 p.m. and repeated on Saturday and Sunday at the same time, is Errol Louis, the host of “Inside City Hall” on NY1. Matos Rodriguez said that when they recorded the program a few weeks ago, he was still adjusting to his new role. “I felt like I’m getting my training wheels and they bring in a Hall of Famer,” he said.
Louis, who is also an adjunct professor at CUNY’s journalism school, said the taping “took me back to my first TV job,” at NY1 in 2010. “I had to go through weeks’ worth of rehearsals before they put me on the air,” he said.
Still, Louis — who said Matos Rodriguez had been on his show several times as a guest — gave the chancellor high marks as a host. The mechanics of doing a TV show take some practice, he said, but added: “The conversation was fantastic. That’s not something he had to learn.”
Matos Rodriguez said he was not one of those hosts who merely reads notes from a producer before going on camera. “When you are a former professor,” he said, “you prep up as if you are preparing for a class.” For an interview with Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist who is a professor at City College and the CUNY Graduate Center, “I read one of his books, the latest one.” Physics is not Matos Rodriguez’s field — he a historian who specialized in Latin American studies — so “you have to overcompensate,” he said.
And for the record, no producer is talking in Matos Rodriguez’s ear. “I refused to wear the earpiece,” he said. “I find it very distracting.”
Family connections have familiarized him with things in television that viewers do not see. “I have two brothers,” he said. “The little brother is a camera guy and the other brother is a producer with CNN Spanish in Miami. I know all the things about the inside of putting together a show. This is a different role. I guess I’m more used to the role of a guest, or when I was on the faculty, a historian, being the nerdy talking head. You’re not in the driver’s seat, as you are here — you just go with the flow.”
Prepare for a windy day, with showers and thunderstorms. Temps will be near the mid-60s. The evening is mostly clear, with temps dropping to around the mid-20s.
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A delay at Penn Station that does not involve the trains
It was another sign that variables in the city’s economic equation continue to be buffeted by trends from the pandemic: The developer hoping to remake the skyline around Pennsylvania Station said it would delay the project.
Steven Roth, the chief executive of Vornado Realty Trust, the builder behind the massive project, said on Tuesday that new construction was “almost impossible” because of high interest rates. He also said that remote work was hurting the office market. In the first week of February, office occupancy was under 49 percent of prepandemic levels, according to Kastle Systems, a security-card company that tracks office building activity.
Roth expressed reservations about the short-term future of the Penn Station redevelopment and other projects during a call with analysts on Tuesday. Michael Franco, Vornado’s president and chief financial officer, said that plans for the Penn Station site could be delayed for at least two years. The project includes 10 new skyscrapers with mostly office space — roughly 18 million square feet in all.
The Penn Station development began as one of Andrew Cuomo’s signature projects when he was governor. Gov. Kathy Hochul scaled it down after she replaced him in 2021, reducing the size of the towers and adding below-market apartments. Empire State Development, which that is steering the project, said in a statement after the Vornado call that it was sticking with the plan.
“Quarterly conditions may fluctuate,” the statement said, “but Governor Hochul’s commitment to revitalizing Penn Station and the area surrounding it will not.”
Roth had cast doubts on the Penn Station project in November, when, without directly referring to it, he cited headwinds in the new-development market. Then, in January, the company cut its quarterly dividend by nearly 30 percent and was removed from the S&P 500.
“I’d say it’s dead for now,” John P. Kim, a managing director at BMO Capital Markets, said about the Penn Station plan.
But the company said it remained committed to the project in the long run. “We fully support the state’s general project plan for the Penn District, are making very significant investments in our existing buildings and are leading public private partnerships to enhance this vital transit hub,” the company said in a statement. A spokesman noted that work will continue at Penn 1 and Penn 2, two office towers above the transit hub that are being upgraded.
My colleague Stefanos Chen writes that the delay could create an opening for critics of the redevelopment. They are pressing the state to put more emphasis on making the grimy, grubby transit hub beneath Madison Square Garden less of a “hellhole” for commuters. (Hochul used that word in 2021 in making the case for the $7 billion project.)
La Guardia Airport was busy but calm on the day after Thanksgiving. I arrived at Terminal B early enough for a relaxing lunch at a lounge near Gate 22.
At 12:15, an attendant began the preboarding announcements for our flight. He explained the order in which we would board and the layout of the plane, advising which seats were on the window: A and F.
“Seats C are on the aisle,” he continued, as well as seats D, as in … ”
He hesitated, apparently searching for a word.
“ … doughnut,” he said. “’Cause I’m hungry.”
— Paul Klenk
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you on Tuesday. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].