How to Lose a Chairman: Joe Lhota for mayor movement growsBy
I started Second Ave. Sagas nearly six years ago, and for the MTA, six years is actually a key number. That’s the length of time a CEO/Chairman term should last. Somehow, it doesn’t always work out that way, and since starting the site, I’ve seen five men and women take over the authority’s reins. High turnover does not lend itself to much stability.
Since Jay Walder’s departure in late 2011, Joe Lhota has been the man at the top. Although I was initially skeptical of a non-transit wonk taking over the agency’s CEO and Chairman role, Lhota has shown a willingness to both learn on the job and zealously advocate for New York’s transit network. His current term expires on June 30 of 2015, and I have hopes that he’ll last that long. Someone should stick around.
In the aftermath of Sandy, though, New York’s political forces seem to be conspiring against the MTA and its long-term outlook. With a relatively weak field of Democratic mayoral candidates, the city’s independent and Republican politicos have been casting around for a suitably strong candidate to maintain their hold on City Hall. After the MTA’s generally stellar response to the storm, Lhota’s name has come up more than once.
This week, an important voice in the business community lent its pages to the cause as Greg David of Crain’s New York trumpeted Joe Lhota 2013. Here’s his take:
One person New Yorkers would have confidence in is Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota, who has shown what a good manager does in a crisis. He is clearly fiscally conservative, knows city government inside and out from his days as Rudy’s first deputy mayor, and appears eerily calm in a crisis (although he has been known to lose his temper in public at other times).
Mr. Lhota’s path for a mayoral candidacy begins and ends with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He’s the governor’s man now. If Mr. Cuomo cares about the competence of the next mayor and if he’d like a devoted ally at City Hall, Mr. Lhota fits the bill. The governor’s support for an independent candidacy would be very powerful.
Maybe the impact of and obsession with Sandy will fade in the next few weeks and the mayoral race will return to a debate about how much to raise taxes on the wealthy, how to impose the living-wage mandate, how many sick days businesses should be required to provide, and how to set aside more contracts for minority- and women-owned companies. If not, expect print and TV media to begin more critical coverage of the Democrats and build up the Lhota legend.
One way or another, Sandy — and any other megastorm — will dominate the New York City news coverage through the next election cycle. The current mayor and the next one will have to address the city’s vulnerability and infrastructure upgrades necessary to protect our assets, our homes and our economy. Lhota, a former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani, certainly could do the job.
But I’m selfish. I’d like someone who can fight for transit to stick around for longer than a year or 18 months. One could also argue that heading up the MTA is nearly as important as being mayor. Is the political promotion worth it? It depends upon that person’s ambitions, but I’d like to hope Lhota will stick around to see his current job through. With budget issues and a capital campaign coming due, the next few years are key for the MTA, and stability at the top and advocacy from the top will remain vital.