Nancy Shevell, Paul McCartney Girlfriend, Playing Hooky From Transit Job

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NEW YORK — Nancy Shevell beamed for hundreds of cameras in London's Leicester Square, a green silk jacket on one arm and Paul McCartney on the other. The 49-year-old trucking heiress dazzled on the red carpet at a movie premiere with the ex-Beatle, her boyfriend of 18 months.

Two days later, Shevell shielded herself behind a colleague, turning away from cameras recording a Metropolitan Transportation Authority meeting where she cast a vote to raise city subway fares 25 percent.

Few who have seen Shevell photographed in Israel, Antigua and at the Grammy Awards with McCartney know of her other life as an executive at a New Jersey trucking company and board member of the nation's largest mass transit agency.

But her public and behind-the-scene personas have collided more and more since the socialite began seeing McCartney in the Hamptons in late 2007.

Since January 2008, Shevell has missed four full board meetings, more than any voting member, according to MTA meeting minutes reviewed by The Associated Press. She attended one Finance Committee meeting in the past year, and has 26 absences total, according to the agency's records.

Shevell skipped an MTA committee meeting approving a controversial fare hike the day she walked the red carpet in London. Since early 2008, the unpaid appointee has the worst attendance of any voting board member, sometimes missing meetings to travel around the world with McCartney.

"It is significant. The whole point of the board is to be a check and balance on the MTA's staff work. You've got to be physically present to do that," said Gene Russianoff, a New York City transit advocate. If members can't show up for meetings, he said, "they should resign."

But celebrity observers aren't surprised that Shevell's former private life is taking a back seat to the 66-year-old McCartney.

"Who can blame her?" said Peter Castro, deputy managing editor of People magazine. "How many of us would be happy at an MTA meeting versus stepping out onto the red carpet at a Grammy event with a living Beatle?"

Shevell _ who didn't return messages seeking comment left at her offices and at the MTA _ is the vice president for administration of New England Motor Freight Inc., an Elizabeth, N.J., trucking company serving the Northeast and owned by her father, Myron P. Shevell. She was married for over 20 years to attorney Bruce Blakeman, a close friend to former Gov. George Pataki, who appointed her to the MTA board. Barbara Walters is her cousin.

But Shevell's public profile barely existed before photographs appeared in late 2007 of her and McCartney in the Hamptons on Long Island, where McCartney long vacationed with his wife Linda, who died from breast cancer in 1998.

"Nobody knew who she was," said Hamptons scene chronicler Steven Gaines, the co-author of "The Love You Make: An Insider's Story of The Beatles." "She's like 25,000 other accomplished women out here in the Hamptons."

Since then, she's become a red-carpet staple, appearing at the March 23 premiere of "The Boat That Rocked" in London, fashion shows by McCartney's daughter Stella, the Grammys and McCartney concerts around the world.

The public has largely embraced the love story, especially McCartney fans disillusioned by the ex-Beatle's bitter breakup from his second wife, Heather Mills, said Castro.

"Any person coming after that is going to get a lot of attention and scrutiny, because it's a soap opera," he said. "They seem to be really in love and just tremendously pleased with each other."

Shevell hasn't given up her work or her unpaid seat on the MTA, the agency that oversees subways and buses for over 8 million New York City riders, regional rails to the suburbs, and bridges and tunnels. Pataki appointed her in 2001 to a term that expires in 2011. She's one of 16 full board members _ seven others either are nonvoting members or combine for one vote. She sits on five committees and chairs one overseeing the agency's $10 billion in capital construction projects. Most meet every month or so.

On Sept. 24, 2008, she missed a 7-6 MTA vote to have city emergency vehicles pay tolls on bridges and tunnels. She was photographed in Israel with McCartney on that day. On March 23, when the Finance Committee approved raising a one-way subway ride to $2.50 and major service cuts, Shevell was at the London premiere of "The Boat That Rocked."

She attended the full MTA meeting March 25, delivering a report on capital construction contracts and explaining her vote for the fare hike as a last resort after state lawmakers failed to come up with enough aid for the cash-strapped agency.

"We do have the responsibility to maintain a safe, high-quality transportation system. Regretfully, without the deserved government funding, we are left no choice. ... And we do plead with those in Albany to do the right thing," she said.

The MTA defended Shevell's board service in a statement this week.

"MTA board members are volunteers who serve without compensation and spend countless hours each month attending meetings and analyzing background materials," the statement said. "Nancy Shevell has been an active board member since her appointment in 2001."

Russianoff, staff attorney for the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, said Shevell seems informed and effective at the meetings she attends.

"I would give her higher marks than average, when she exercises her responsibilities," he said, "but you know, does she have the time?"

MTA board member Andrew Albert, who sits near Shevell at meetings, wondered if attention to McCartney's girlfriend could help commuters by calling attention to transit's financial woes. "It just means there's a few more cameras in the room" at meetings, he said.

Albert said Shevell's relationship with McCartney hasn't changed her performance at the MTA.

"I think she's great," Albert said. "When she's there, she's conscientious and cares. ... If she's happy, that's great. She'll decide when she can't do it anymore."