Home MTA Politics Link: Lhota the candidate vs. Lhota the MTA head

Link: Lhota the candidate vs. Lhota the MTA head

by Benjamin Kabak

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated Joe Lhota to head up the MTA, transit advocates were surprised. Lhota was a behind-the-scenes numbers guy for Mayor Rudy Giuliani and an executive with Cablevision and Madison Square Garden with no real transportation experience to speak of. Yet in his brief tenure as MTA Chair and CEO, he become a vocal advocate for transit in New York City, conversant in the ins and outs of the MTA’s daily operations and its complex budget and a staunch supporter of its post-Sandy recovery efforts. I thought he could have been a very effective MTA head had he stayed, but the press coverage from the storm had him dreaming of Gracie Mansion.

I had guardedly high hopes for Lhota’s campaign. Here, after all, was a mayoral candidate who saw first-hand what happened when the city’s transit system shutdown. He recognized the importance of both restoring service and keeping open lines of communication with the millions of New Yorkers who depend upon the trains each day. He fought for external dollars and internal efficiency. He understood it.

As a mayoral candidate, though, transit and transportation have not been Lhota’s strong suits. It’s unclear if he’s simply playing to a base of Staten Island voters vital to his mayoral chances and other pockets of GOP voting blocs that aren’t as sympathetic to transit or the MTA, but one way or another, Lhota as MTA head was far more appealing that Lhota the mayoral candidate.

Earlier this week at Capital New York, Dana Rubinstein took a look at Lhota’s move away from transit advocacy. Here’s her take:

Months before Hurricane Sandy propelled Joe Lhota into the public eye, and then into a run for mayor, the then-M.T.A. chairman expressed hope that the subway system would be an issue in 2013. “I do believe that people are focused on this,” he said, in March of last year, referring to the M.T.A.’s precarious finances. “It’ll probably be a very big item during the mayoral race next year.”

Now Joe Lhota is the Republican nominee. And he is not talking about the M.T.A.’s finances in any sort of serious way. Which is not to say that he’s not talking about it. He thinks the M.T.A. should drop billions on a subway extension from Republican-heavy Bay Ridge to Republican-heavy Staten Island. He’s also in favor of reinstituting the commuter tax, but to fill the city’s coffers, not the M.T.A.’s.

The former Giuliani deputy who served for a year at the helm of the transit authority now wants the city to wrest control of the money-making Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and reduce tolls for Staten Islanders, even though those tolls subsidize the hurricane-ravaged subway system. He used to think congestion pricing wasn’t such a radical idea. Now he finds the very prospect of congestion pricing “draconian,” even though the latest version to make the rounds of New York’s power circles includes a toll-equalization scheme that would benefit, among other constituencies, drivers on Staten Island.

As others Rubinstein spoke with noted, some positions — such as congestion pricing — aren’t tenable for a mayoral candidate with serious hopes for a primary victory. Furthermore, with city control over the MTA somewhat limited, the mayor can speak until he’s blue in the face about transit advocacy and policies without actually being able to do much. Still, I’d rather see a candidate support a sensible approach toward transit investment and development than backtrack on a year’s worth of progress.

There’s plenty of time for Lhota to change his tune, and I’m not convinced that Bill de Blasio is any stronger on rail and buses than Lhota could be. But as Rubinstein explores, this is as close to an about-face as one can imagine. Election Day is a week after the one-year anniversary of Sandy, and the Lhota who became a household name after the storm doesn’t yet appear to be the same Lhota as the one who will be on that ballot.

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Bolwerk September 19, 2013 - 2:16 pm

I tend to think Lhota probably will prove more moderate on transportation if elected. His promises for park ‘n rides pretty much sound tailor-made to be swept under the rug by city planners on account of not really improving anything or moving more people. They just motivate drivers to the polls. Bloomberg pulled a similar tactic promising light rail to Red Hook, and then letting planners not act on it (of course, light rail would have been a good idea).

The major reasons to oppose Lhota are on budgeting, civil liberties, and (hopefully) halting the atrocious policing tactics of the Giuliani-Bloomberg era. He has most of the disadvantages of de Blasio, and none of the advantages.

sharon September 19, 2013 - 7:44 pm

DeBlasio makes me want to throw up ever time he opens his mouth. The man is a double talking fraud.

“halting the atrocious policing tactics of the Giuliani-Bloomberg era. ”

BY THESE TACTICS YOUR MEAN THE TACTICS THAT BROUGHT NYC BACK FROM THE BRINK. I am a life long NYC resident and remember the bad old days before Rudy. It was an anything goes atmosphere .

The police under Rudy did their job, questioning anyone who was breaking the law. Under Bloomberg, the harass people in some areas and play on their cell phones and let things go in others.

An example in my area is fire works. Under Rudy, if a fire work went off, the police tracked the person down, wrote a ticket and no more fire works. Under Bloomberg the police do nothing.

We need strong policing in all area.

I rather be stopped and be safe then be worrying about getting jumped or robbed .

Alex C September 19, 2013 - 11:34 pm

The problem isn’t the concept of stop and frisk, it’s doing it based entirely on race that’s the problem. The NYPD wastes time they could spend questioning actual criminals on harassing completely random black and hispanic men. The practice yields embarrassingly low rates of criminal activity being found. Please don’t try and excuse it. It’s a waste of police time (which, again, could be used on looking for actual suspicious activity) and sends an awful message to the black and latino communities in this city.

Bolwerk September 20, 2013 - 1:42 am

Sharon thinks New Yorkers are rambunctious little apes who won’t behave themselves when their daddies aren’t supervising them.

Spendmore Wastemore September 20, 2013 - 12:04 pm

“DeBlasio makes me want to throw up ever time he opens his mouth. The man is a double talking fraud.”

In politics, that’s a compliment.

Lhota seems like someone you could trust to babysit your tweenage kids or run a complex business.
People like that don’t make it in politics.

Bolwerk September 20, 2013 - 1:49 pm

I don’t know WTF tweenage babysitting has to do with anything, but they shouldn’t necessarily make it in executive politics. The people who should make it as mayor should be people competent to be mayor, a bare minimum both candidates probably meet.

Sharon just doesn’t like people who think the Fourth Amendment should be followed.

Karm September 21, 2013 - 8:46 pm

The problem is knowing who real criminals are… Do you think cops (many of whom now are themselves black and hispanic) want to waste time talking to ppl who aren’t criminals? You do realize most criminality flourishes because the communities themselves don’t do enough to fight it themselves. Asians don’t seem to have a problem being stopped and frisked and they are the smallest minority. Why do you think they don’t have the same problems? It’s not poverty – since most of them come to this country poor as well. There are Asian criminals – but a much lower proportion. Hence they are not stopped. It’s simple numbers really – not racism. Go to El Salvador – Jamaica – the Dominican Republic… ppl are stopped more in higher crime areas. Same ethnic groups.

Bolwerk September 22, 2013 - 2:09 am

Okay, going by the incoherence here, I’m guessing you just don’t want to say it: you think black/brown = “real criminal,” and you wonder why people would object to that notion. You know, even if stop ‘n frisk had some effect besides just humiliating “completely random black and hispanic men” and proving officialdom can ignore the U.S. constitution.

I’d be curious to see how you’d feel if some porker put his hands on you and felt you up though. You’d probably be pissed, because they’re supposed to go after them and not you, but your tiny Iowa nuts would shrivel and you’d comply.

Karm September 22, 2013 - 10:54 am

Listen clown – I grew up in the ghetto – I had many interactions with cops – most negative. You know why they were negative? When I was younger they couldn’t have cared less. You are a complete idiot to think I’m from Iowa. I’m really done here!

Bolwerk September 22, 2013 - 1:26 pm

I’m sorry your interactions with police were negative.

Wait, no, I’m sorry you have so little empathy for other people that you want to inflict negative interactions with police on yet another generation. Violence begets violence!

Alon Levy September 22, 2013 - 4:12 am

Asians don’t seem to have a problem being stopped and frisked and they are the smallest minority. Why do you think they don’t have the same problems? It’s not poverty – since most of them come to this country poor as well.

Your knowledge of Asian-Americans is atrocious.

Chinese-Americans often come into the US poor but educated. They have degrees from Chinese universities that aren’t recognized in the US, and take jobs well below their skill level, but have extensive experience with education as a path of success (because they saw it in China), and their US-born children learn, even passively, that it’s possible for them to become doctors or engineers or whatever.

Korean-Americans are basically the same as Chinese-Americans.

South Asians who come to the US almost never come in poor – they are educated and come into the US as skilled workers and generally have high incomes. Hence, very low crime rates, even though India’s crime rate is higher than China’s. In the UK and Canada this isn’t so true of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis (still true of Indians), and as a result Pakistani- and Bangladeshi-British indicators of social exclusion like unemployment and wages are quite bad.

Southeast Asians in the US are mainly Filipino or Vietnamese and come in as former US colonial subjects, same as Algerians in France or South Asians in the UK, and as a result do not have the self-selection of Chinese-, Korean- and South Asian-Americans. The model minority myth doesn’t really apply to them, in the same manner that the usual stereotypes of Jewish Americans do not really apply to Brooklyn Hasidim. For the most part, when white Americans (and I believe also black and Hispanic Americans) think about Asians they think about Chinese people and maybe South Asians rather than Filipinos and Vietnamese – certainly not Hmong or Cambodian.

The upshot is that the sort of racists who oppose school integration and think black people are sketchy don’t hate Asians, not on those grounds at least. So if Chinese people move into a suburb, it will not trigger white flight because Can We Please Think of the Schools???!!!?11111 until there’s a Chinese majority, and white cops will for the most part not harass Asians.

Karm September 22, 2013 - 10:52 am

Mr. Levy – I have to laugh at you – because I’m not white.
Funny enough – my high school was almost all black. We had one Chinese kid in a history class of mine… His family actually owned a Chinese take out down the block from me. That didn’t mean they had money because they had a lot of ppl to support. You know why that kid left the school? One summer afternoon we heard gun shots down the street. You know who was shot? His father in the store – 5 times… Why? Simply because he “disrespected” someone who came into the store. Yes – broad daylight. They fled the area and I never saw the kid again. You weren’t there when they washed the man’s blood off of the sidewalk.. I was. You could ask anyone who lived around there – would they prefer to live around the hoodlums or that Chinese man and they would tell you the Chinese man. That wasn’t racism… which is why all those ppl who could eventually moved form there too.

You’re talking textbooks and I’m talking first hand experience.

Bolwerk September 22, 2013 - 12:56 pm

Hurr, yes, nobody who objects to unconstitutional police tactics would ever have witnessed such a thing.

You know what I saw on my block a few months ago? A few meathead porkers shamelessly beating the snot out of an Indian or Pakistani guy. Being that experience trumps, uh, thinking, this must prove that police are useless barbarians who should be rounded up and imprisoned before they hurt anyone else.

Alon Levy September 23, 2013 - 8:19 pm

Okay, your familiarity with Asians is that one of them went to your school. (I’m presuming you’re not Asian or you’d have led with that rather than a generic “I’m not white”?) So for fuck’s sake, don’t argue personal experience when you have none. Anti-intellectual types always do this – the global warming bit I mentioned in the other subthread is just the logical conclusion.

Karm September 24, 2013 - 5:23 pm

Actually know – I have much more familiarity with Asians… but this is not a personal forum. You know what they say about assumptions? It’s similar to what they say about opinions.
In any even for someone to refer to someone else “anti-intellectual” but uses gutter language and personal insults – is the epitome of what? Well if I were to make an assumption – then I’d assume someone with the name “Levy” claims descent from the Tribe of Levi… that type of behavior wouldn’t be very “priestly”. But I know nothing about you so it would be a waste of time. You see why it’s ridiculous to make internet assumptions?

Bolwerk September 24, 2013 - 11:18 pm

“Listen clown” • “something is wrong with you” • “You are a complete idiot….”

You’re literally the only person here who used personal insults and “gutter language.”

Joe Shmo September 22, 2013 - 12:53 am

The problem IS the basis of frisking random United States citizens, as it violates the very constitution this country is founded upon.

Its weird that in todays society, if you bring up the constitution and the indoctrination of being “safe” via ridiculous violations of privacy, you get labeled as an extremist…which I am sure you are thinking right now…

To think that this country was founded by such blind and blisteringly stupid radical and sensational terrorists (which they were by the British Monarchy…)

The guy with the kite and turkeys was especially retarded…

Alon Levy September 20, 2013 - 10:35 pm

New York’s crime rate started going down in 1990. Probably just the fear of Giuliani getting elected in 1993 made people start killing each other less.

Eileen September 21, 2013 - 8:33 am

I agree that it started going down, in the advent of the Giuliani administration. I remember how bad crime was, up until that point, in the 1970s and 1980s, the city was not livable.

My parents had their car stolen outside of Church at 9:00 am, in the summer months, among other things. I do not want to go back to those days, and many voters have no memory of that time.

Before I vote Democratic, I would have to be assured that crime would be dealt with, otherwise, I will have to vote Republican, despite my economic concerns.

Bolwerk September 21, 2013 - 3:11 pm

Democrats might have been complicit in this, but stupid Republikan policies, especially at the federal level, played no small part in creating the crime problem to begin with. If you’re worried about crime or budgets, you should never, ever vote Republikan.

Alon Levy September 22, 2013 - 4:15 am

Crime will most probably be dealt with, same as in the Dinkins administration, when crime started going down. It just won’t be flashy, and it won’t involve the mayor lying about victims of police brutality.

Rest assured that the communists I know hate Dinkins and attribute the problems of black New York (i.e. Harlem rents rising because the area is no longer scary) to him and not to Giuliani.

Karm September 21, 2013 - 3:33 pm

only newcomers or ppl born after 1995 (I’d also put academics who get grants to “study” these phenomena – who say it’s uncertain so they can keep getting grants for more studies) really think that it wasn’t police tactics that saved the city from the destructive path it was on.

Bolwerk September 21, 2013 - 4:27 pm

Are you going to defend that totally unfounded claim this time, or just leave it sitting there like a turd on the floor?

Bolwerk September 21, 2013 - 4:28 pm
Karm September 21, 2013 - 8:39 pm

you again??? stick to transit talk. I lived it growing up so I don’t need any of your favorite sociology professors to tell me they aren’t sure what happened.

but fine… since I can’t/won’t introduce you to ppl I grew up around – here is a documentary where former street guys talk about the reasons crime is not what it once was. long story short – jail and death are strong deterrents… and jail wasn’t an imminent threat until law enforcement made it such.

Bolwerk September 22, 2013 - 1:55 am

How does being a toddler in 1995 make you any less wrong? You can either give a coherent account of what effect policing had on New York’s crime or you can’t, and evidently you can’t. Just admit you can’t defend your assertion, or at least stop repeating flagrant lies. I’m not fishing for a truthy answer in some pixelated YouTube documentary if you can’t be bothered to write one verifiable sentence defending your claim.

The incarceration rate started trending way upward after 1975, but feel free to keep trying. If correlation proves causation, putting people in prison may have increased crime.

Karm September 22, 2013 - 10:44 am

Bolwerk – something is wrong with you. We went over this already… and you must be one of those born after 95… get over yourself… your diatribes hold no weight with me.
Go try to tell a WW2 vet what it was like in combat. I won’t try because I never experienced it. I know what street life was like in NY – and I can talk about that.

I told you – find another sandbox. Or better yet stick to talking about transit.

Bolwerk September 22, 2013 - 1:00 pm

Yes, we went over it, and you still dodge the question, preferring personal anecdotes smattered with mindless insults to actually making a case defending your position. There are millions of people besides you with worse experiences. So, keep trying.

Maybe I know both combat and the streets of New York. And the 1980s, with its smiling clown “tough on crime” president’s Morning in Amerika. Or maybe I don’t. How would either make you any less wrong?

Alon Levy September 22, 2013 - 3:59 am

Hey, at least you’re not like the person who told me that he doesn’t need studies because he has real world experience that global warming is caused by sunspots.

People just hate the fact that their prejudices aren’t always true. Much easier to concoct a conspiracy theory that sociologists are trying to get more grant money than to admit that the reason people think Giuliani saved the city is that they’re racist, authoritarian, or both.

Karm September 22, 2013 - 10:31 am

to compare making a neighborhood safe to observing climate change is probably the most ridiculous comparison i’ve ever heard. Well considering I’m not white I doubt I’m racist against other minorites. Authoritarian? Go ask ANYONE I grew around and ask them which time frame they prefer. For the record – I couldn’t stand Guiliani on a personal level… but he gave Bratton the tools – simple and plain. The only ones who don’t know it didn’t live it… SIMPLE

Bolwerk September 22, 2013 - 1:06 pm

I was alive then, sorry, and no stranger to urban problems. You’re still full of shit, and you can’t even get your history right. Crime was dropping before Giuliani. Don’t you remember, or were you not here before 1994?

Bolwerk September 22, 2013 - 1:14 pm

Another irony to his tarring of academia: is it just me, or does conventional sociology actually attract some of the kookiest right-wingers in academia? James Q. Wilson, no doubt not stop ‘n frisked at the Pearly Gates for his service to Authority, originated broken windows, which might at some level have a bit of merit, not Bratton.

Joe Shmo September 22, 2013 - 1:06 am

Then why has statistically EVERY MAJOR CITY in the COUNTRY, and the entire COUNTRY, seen vastly reduced crime during the supposed Giuliani hayday?

I’ll admit that I was just a wee tyke during all this supposed Wild West stuff, but from looking at the statistical data, most of the crime from the 70’s and 80’s stems from an outbreak of Cocaine and Meth usage. When the prices of coke skyrocketed and availability plummeted, crime throughout the country seemed to follow suit.

Karm September 22, 2013 - 10:28 am

Coke availability plummeted???? LOLOL – yeah you definitely didn’t grow up in the ghetto. That’s a big joke. In any event… it was heroin in the 70’s…

And no – every major city did NOT have the same crime drop. Though federal guidelines for sentencing and enforcement certainly made a difference… each individual city had different levels of success. Jump down the NJ Turnpike and ask Philly why crime and murder reduction hasn’t been so easy. Then go further to Baltimore. Sure there has been reduction there – but nowhere near the same level. Atlanta – Oakland – etc. etc.

Bolwerk September 22, 2013 - 1:24 pm

Except the police in Philly are more corrupt, vicious, and extra-judicial than the ones in New York. I’d have to doublecheck, but I think he’s right about cocaine (crack actually) usage going down in the late 1980s.

It’s no surprise that the cities with the least success had the least to build on when urban revival started rearing its head in the 1980s. Even through its worst decades New York sustained a recoverable if still dilapidated housing stock, walkable streets, an economic niche that no other city could really take away, and an extensive transit system. Policing really didn’t solve everything.

joe shmo September 26, 2013 - 7:24 pm

Ok…coke, heroin. Whatever. Not a drug expert. I know historically the hard sh!t was cracked down and hard to come by, and it’s use plummeted during the late 80’s and to the 90’s.

Drugs r bad, mmmkY?

Either way, every city in the United States saw major reductions in crime with varying levels of police activity. It’s hard to label it all on some magic pill blanket of security when you read statistics (something

Larry Littlefield September 19, 2013 - 3:43 pm

I saw Lhota talk for the publication Bond Buyer, a more sophisticated audience, and he said the city would probably have to come up with money for the MTA capital plan if the state does its share.

But he said something that isn’t true, that the MTA only borrows for capital expenditures.

It isn’t just that as I define it, ongoing normal replacement is not a capital expenditure to borrow for because there is no increase in income to pay for it. (Unlike the Flushing extension, to be paid for by occupants of new buildings).

It is that in the early 1990s, in response to the cutoff of general fund revenues from the city and state, the MTA defined a whole bunch of operating costs as “reimbursable” by the capital budget. Basically operating a train within a mile of a capital project, etc. So borrowed and federal money could be used. This fiscal slight of hand was never reversed, because the general fund revenues were never restored (in fact dedicated MTA taxes were diverted).

That’s been up to $600 million per year in the past, but seems to be $300 million now. Assuming the federal money was not spent on it, that is $6 billion plus borrowed over 20 years in today’s money for thoese expenses.


Page II-2

So now we have $2 billion per year out of the operating budget for interest, instead of transportation and investment. After a laughably small amount of system expansion. That’s what happens after 20 years of borrowing for what used to be called operating costs, and what should have been called operating costs.

And this hasn’t just gone on at the MTA.

Larry Littlefield September 19, 2013 - 4:01 pm

Check that $300 million per year.

“Reimbursable” operating expenses paid for by the capital budget (debt) are up to nearly $800 million per year just for New York City Transit!


Page V-208. Remember, these were “operating expense” until the start of the Generation Greed era in state government in the early 1990s. This is basically an accounting scam, but one that is the opposite of what the “two sets of books” crowd wanted to claim.

Bolwerk September 20, 2013 - 11:12 am

Really, what part of the capital budget is unsecured(?) debt?

Larry Littlefield September 20, 2013 - 2:59 pm

300 percent.

asar September 19, 2013 - 6:30 pm

What happend to “the next stop” is this week?

Benjamin Kabak September 19, 2013 - 6:33 pm

Scheduling conflicts this past Monday. We’ll have a new one out next week instead.

Normative September 20, 2013 - 1:07 pm

“As a mayoral candidate, though, transit and transportation have not been Lhota’s strong suits. It’s unclear if he’s simply playing to a base of Staten Island voters vital to his mayoral chances and other pockets of GOP voting blocs that aren’t as sympathetic to transit or the MTA”

It is amazing that in NYC public transit would be a divisive political issue. If true, it would be sad to see that in order to be a republican you had to disapprove of public transportation. This is not America; its NYC. There are many working and middle class republicans who take the subway to work everyday in NYC. Just based off personal observation, I don’t think in order to drum up support a republican would need to neglect the MTA.

Also a side note: I wouldn’t call Bay Ridge republican heavy.

Karm September 21, 2013 - 3:30 pm

yeah – bay ridge is no longer heavily republican…. and then again – even staten island is becoming more “blue”… it’s as weird as ppl thinking that Bensonhurst is all Italian still. but yeah – ppl like Dana Rubenstein instead of being even-handed have a democratic leaning viewpoint in their reporting.

Lhota is simply being practical instead of making grand promises he can’t achieve like the Democratic nominee.

Joe Shmo September 22, 2013 - 1:01 am

Its true. Not to mention the very ideologue of walking a “party line” is very undemocratic, but I have Conservative city friends who are just as concerned about public transit as their Democratic bretheran.

And both Dems and Reps are misguided in understanding that the MTA is severely underfunded, and constantly used as a loophole in Albany by corrupt politicians to send funds to various “causes” instead of Mass Transit, since the MTA is such a good public scapegoat.

On both local and federal politics, most Reps and Dems align on most political issues. This decisive politics that is often spewed is simply bullsh!t.

Bolwerk September 22, 2013 - 2:22 am

Stereotypes aside, Democratic politicians are probably less open to reforming transit than Republikan politicians, but the latter have to deal with a much more stupid, selfish primary population. Hence’s Lhota’s expensive and/or unachievable promises like toll reduction and park ‘n rides, which appeal to the most delusional people in the city.

At the state level, where the Republikan caucus may not care much about what goes on the city because it has virtually been banished here, the Skelkos types are sometimes more reasonable than Silver on mundane stuff, though not necessarily for altruistic reasons.

AG September 22, 2013 - 10:22 am

“On both local and federal politics, most Reps and Dems align on most political issues. This decisive politics that is often spewed is simply bullsh!t.”

yup – in spite of rhetoric – they all drink at the same trough


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