PROFILE: Navy officer keeps MTA travelers up to speed

Heading PR for either the MTA or the US Naval Reserve is a challenge. Christopher Boylan not only handles both, but he does so in a way that has earned widespread admiration.

Heading PR for either the MTA or the US Naval Reserve is a challenge. Christopher Boylan not only handles both, but he does so in a way that has earned widespread admiration.

As deputy executive director for corporate affairs and communications for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and commanding officer of the US Naval Reserve Office of Information East, Christopher Boylan is one of the hardest working guys in PR. He is also one of the most reluctant to talk about his achievements, believing it's the people he works with that deserve recognition. "Everybody is nice to the people above them," says former New York Mayor Ed Koch, for whom Boylan worked as a federal legislative representative. "You tell the good guys by how they treat the people under them - he's one of the good guys." Boylan came to the MTA in 1990 as director of federal and local government relations. Today, he oversees marketing, government relations, corporate communications, media relations, internal communications, the New York Transit Museum, and the MTA Arts for Transit program. The MTA moves 8 million people a day (about one-third of all US transit riders), and has faced many operating challenges. In the last year-and-a-half and-a-half alone, Boylan has faced fallout from September 11, a strike threat, and now a proposed rate hike. But he says his biggest challenge is constantly communicating system improvements. "In the late 1970s and early '80s, the system was a disaster," he says. "We're currently in the midst of a $17 billion, five-year capital improvement program, and my biggest challenge is keeping fresh the idea that unless we continue to invest, we could end up with a system like we had years ago." For all his immense MTA responsibilities, Boylan is just another guy riding the system to work every day. He commutes to Penn Station on the Long Island Railroad and alternates between the subway and the bus to his office. "It helps to be a regular user of the system if you're communicating its benefits," he says. "It's important to be in touch with the real world. You want to make sure you're not fooling yourself when you're telling folks everything is fine." Koch says Boylan has always been dependable for truthful assessments. "Chris never offered an opinion unless he was sure of the facts, and that's rare in government. If he told you something, you could count on it." Most people have difficulty balancing one demanding job and family, but Boylan manages to excel in his civilian job, raise three children, and maintain his 22-year military career. "Frankly, I do have conversations with [my family] about demands on my time, and they're a very understanding bunch," he says. "I think they're kind of proud. I don't want to sound Pollyanna-ish about it, but I think there's a greater good involved, and [my wife] realizes that - the kids too." Boylan feels fortunate that the MTA and the state of New York also support his military obligations. He enlisted in the reserves and became a public affairs officer after college in 1981, and went on to earn a master's degree in public administration, with an emphasis on legislative affairs from the Nelson A. Rockefeller Graduate School of Public Affairs. He must devote one weekend a month and two weeks a year to the Navy, but as a commanding officer he says he's involved via e-mail almost every day. His team of 22 supports the Navy's chief of information in communicating to the media and community from Maine to Maryland. "He's very high on the chain of command in the Navy, and I'm very low on it, but he treats us with a lot of respect," says Geraldine Hawkins, seaman journalist, US Naval Reserve, who has served under Boylan for about two years. "He inspires trust, and makes you want to do well." On taking up his command, Boylan invited his team to his home for dinner. "His little boy sang My Country 'Tis of Thee for us, and his mother told me he's a wonderful son," recalls Hawkins. "It was a very idyllic setting." Boylan has been called to active duty 26 times, the longest stint being nearly a month in Australia in 2001. "Practicing public affairs out of a tent is challenging," Boylan says. "We took the international media four or five hours into the backwoods of Australia in the middle of the night to watch what happens when you have amphibious assaults. Until you see what it's like to have dozens of tanks and equipment moving on the beach at 2 am, you can't really understand." In January, Boylan spent two weeks in Norfolk, VA, at a meeting of NATO defense ministers. "It gave me more exposure to the international military players," he says. "It was a challenge communicating in a multinational environment. Not everybody is as public- affairs disposed as our Navy." Boylan believes technology has changed PR for the better on both the civilian and military sides. "Technology is a great force multiplier," he says. "The website has become such a powerful tool if used correctly. After 9/11, [the MTA site] went from 300,000 hits a day to 10 million because we were updating consumer-relevant information on an hourly basis." Technology also helps Boylan juggle responsibilities. "It allows me to do, if not two jobs at the same time, at least one-and-a-half," he says. "I have the best of both worlds. What I'm doing here today might be different than what I'm doing tomorrow and next year, and I'm hoping to enjoy this for a while." ----- Christopher Boylan 1996-present MTA - deputy executive director, corporate affairs and communications 1981-present US Naval Reserve - PA officer, rising to Commanding Officer; Office of Information East 2001 Big Apple Greeter organization - chair 1996-1999 Vice chair, American Public Trans. Assoc. 1993-1996 MTA - chief of staff to two chairmen 1990 MTA - director of federal/local govt. relations 1979-1990 NYC's Mayor's Office - legislative analyst, then federal legislative representative of intergovernmental relations (1984-1990) 1978-1979 Served in NY State Assembly legislative session and then Dept. of State, Albany

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