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Lawmakers approve return of Joseph Lhota as MTA chairman

Joseph Lhota was nominated to become MTA chairman

Joseph Lhota was nominated to become MTA chairman by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday night, June 21, 2017. Lhota is pictured in 2012 during his previous stint as MTA chairman. Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY — Joseph Lhota, the former Lindenhurst resident who led the MTA through recovering from the devastation of superstorm Sandy, has been appointed to lead the nation’s largest public transportation agency.

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo nominated Lhota, 62, to become chairman of the MTA. The full Senate approved his nomination late Wednesday before adjourning for the summer, filling the post that has been vacant since Thomas Prendergast stepped down in January.

At a confirmation hearing, Lhota expressed frustration over ongoing MTA service problems. He also said he’d favor a Long Island Rail Road fare reduction and promised to hire an executive director to run the system’s day-to-day operations.

“I am as frustrated as everyone, and more frustrated because I know the MTA can do better,” Lhota told state senators at his confirmation screening so hastily arranged that it was conducted via Skype teleconference. News of the nomination came late in the final day of the state’s legislative session.

He said there should be more overnight shutdowns for subway-system repairs, saying it is necessary even if riders “don’t want to hear it.”

Lhota said a key goal would be to get “more trains into Downtown Brooklyn.” And he said the MTA needs to figure out its maintenance priorities first, then look at money issues.

“Joe Lhota is a respected and highly capable public servant who will be a tremendous advocate on behalf of all Long Islanders,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Wednesday night.

Lhota held the job from October 2011 to December 2012, resigning to run unsuccessfully for New York City mayor as a Republican.

Lhota, who currently works as senior vice president, vice dean and chief of staff for NYU Langone Medical Center, would add to a resume of public service positions that included serving as Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s right-hand man after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the position of deputy mayor.

During his tenure as boss of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Lhota helped the agency bounce back from a nearly $2 billion budget hole it faced the year before he took over, and also from 2012’s Sandy, which inundated the subway system and the East River tunnels serving the LIRR with damaging floodwaters.

An investment banker by trade, Lhota also previously held corporate positions at the Madison Square Garden Company and Cablevision — Newsday’s former parent company.

After keeping a low public profile for years, Lhota recently surfaced as part of Cuomo’s hand-picked task force to find solutions to the LIRR commuting crisis at Penn Station.

At a news conference last week to announce the LIRR’s service plan for the summer, when an Amtrak construction project will reduce capacity at Penn, Lhota shared the dais with interim MTA executive director Veronique Hakim and interim chairman Fernando Ferrer. There, Lhota talked about how the MTA would be working “in the long run” to address Amtrak’s “management and operating failures” at Penn.

“Someone smarter than me said you can’t let a crisis go to waste,” Lhota said at the news conference.

“Obviously, Joe has the experience from having been with us at the MTA in the past . . . You’re not starting someone from scratch,” said MTA board member Mitchell Pally of Stony Brook. “He understood the Long Island issues that were there. He understood how important the railroad is to everyone out here.”

“Joe Lhota demonstrated competence, toughness, and an ability to think outside the box in the wake of superstorm Sandy,” Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said Wednesday night. “He will need to employ all of these qualities and more to deal with the current transit crisis, and I look forward to him tackling the tremendous challenges facing the Long Island Rail Road and Penn Station infrastructure issues in particular.”

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