Home MTA Politics Advocates, industry insiders floating Prendergast for MTA CEO

Advocates, industry insiders floating Prendergast for MTA CEO

by Benjamin Kabak

It’s been exactly a month since Joe Lhota stepped down as MTA CEO and Chair to run for mayor, and we’ve heard nothing at all about a potential replacement. Last time around, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a search committee, but this time around, as is often the case, Cuomo has seemingly forgotten that the MTA both exists and has two men sharing temporary duties as Chairman and Executive Director.

Still, that hasn’t stopped transit advocates and those invested heavily in the outcome of the proceedings — that is, contractors — from putting forward a name as a potential replacement. That name belongs to Tom Prendergast, the interim MTA Executive Director and current New York City Transit President. As Dana Rubinstein notes, some in the industry have begun to embrace Prendergast as a successor. She writes:

Denise Richardson, managing director of the General Contractors Association, told me Prendergast might make a lot of sense. “First of all, Tom is a world-renowned transportation system manager,” she said. “He was recruited out of the M.T.A. to go run the Vancouver system. He’s worked at the M.T.A. in various capacities a large chunk of his career. He was instrumental in developing the plan that was so succesfully excecuted with the storm. He knows the financial issues that the M.T.A. faces and he knows the political environment. And he knows certainly why the public loves the M.T.A., and he knows why the public doesn’t so much love the M.T.A.”

In short, he wouldn’t have much of a learning curve. That’s no small issue for an enormous and enormously complicated bureaucracy that’s seen six leaders in six years and has a capital plan up for renewal in 2015.

Nadine Lemmon, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Albany legislative advocate, put it this way, in an email yesterday: “It is no surprise that his name may be floating around, given his understanding and experience with the agency. What transit advocates would like is: 1) someone willing to make a commitment to sticking around, 2) who will continue the strong inroads Joe Lhota made with the legislature and customers, 3) who can be a strong champion that can help secure the funding needed for the next capital plan.”

Lemmon’s second rationale seems of particular importance to advocates, one of whom told me (anonymously, for fear of getting ahead of Governor Andrew Cuomo), “Whoever’s chosen should be willing to stay around, not somebody who is going to leave in a year or a two.”

Industry observers were quick to question if Richardson’s ready embrace is a net positive for New Yorkers. It’s certainly a positive for the construction industry, but with costs as high as they are now, taxpayers often do not emerge ahead in those scenarios.

Still, I echo Rubinstein’s last point in the excerpt above: Prendergast has been here for nearly four years and hasn’t shown a desire to leave. He’s well-respected internally which is more than we can say for predecessor at Transit, and he knows the various realms he would oversee as MTA head. If only for the stability of the organization and the ability to move quickly on a nomination, we could do far, far worse than Prendergast.

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Someone January 31, 2013 - 4:33 pm

Good idea.

Larry Littlefield January 31, 2013 - 5:41 pm

I would have said he’d be a great choice. But hearing the contractors were not in favor of it gives me pause.

I don’t suppose 76-year-old David Gunn would came back from retirement in his native Canada, do you?

Stephen Smith February 1, 2013 - 9:14 am

Ha, I very much doubt David Gunn’s wife would let him un-retire a second time.

Avi January 31, 2013 - 5:46 pm

I’ve heard from people at the MTA that Prendergast deserves more of the credit for the Sandy plan and recovery than Lhota does. He’d be a great choice to take over.

Marc Shepherd February 1, 2013 - 9:22 am

I doubt that Lhota had anything to do with the Sandy plan at all, except as a cheerleader. Where would he have gotten the technical expertise? Lhota was put in the job as a politician (not that that’s a bad thing), not as a nuts-and-bolts transit manager.

BrooklynBus February 1, 2013 - 12:16 pm

Read the report from the Rudin Center as to how much credit he should get. All the plans were in place before he took over. Link is in this article. http://www.sheepsheadbites.com.....ing-sandy/

Alon Levy February 1, 2013 - 3:08 pm

I hear the same.

Epson45 January 31, 2013 - 9:06 pm

I dont think he is interested in the MTA Charmian position. He likes his job.

It would be a train wreck if Helena Williams to oversea the MTA.

Someone February 1, 2013 - 7:43 am

On second thought, I think that having Prendergast as a MTA chairman would actually be good or better for the MTA. However, I don’t think he wants to do that.

BrooklynBus February 1, 2013 - 12:18 pm

Do you have any inside information that would lead you to that conclusion. He is a decent person and would be a great choice.

LLQBTT February 1, 2013 - 9:06 am

Even contractors need steady leadership. Moreover, it doesn’t seem as if Prendergast will run for political office or opportunistically go half way around the globe to work at a more ‘functional’ transit entity.

A retention payment could go a long way towards keeping him around.

Bolwerk February 1, 2013 - 10:41 am

Cuomo isn’t selecting an MTA CEO for keeping costs down or expanding the system. He’s picking someone who might be a reformist, within the current confines of the MTA’s structure. Therefore, I don’t know that we’re going to do much better.

Larry Littlefield February 3, 2013 - 7:51 am

I think you have to consider what the job of the MTA Chair is. He’s the front man. So maybe operational competence is not what you need at the position.

The question is, how would Pendegast due in sparring with the City Council and State Legislature?


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