Joe Lhota resigns as MTA chairman

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MTA Chairman Joe Lhota (Photo courtesy of Joe Lhota via Twitter)
MTA Chairman Joe Lhota (Photo courtesy of Joe Lhota via Twitter)

Joe Lhota, who returned to the MTA as its chairman to help salvage the city’s subway system after leading a transit system recovery after Superstorm Sandy, resigned from his position on Friday.

Fernando Ferrer, the vice chairman, was named acting chair. A permanent replacement will be selected when the state Senate reconvenes in January.

“Joe Lhota has dedicated decades of his life to public service culiminating in two tours of duty at the helm of the MTA,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “He stabilized the subway system, appointed a new leadership structure to completely overhaul the MTA, and led with a steady hand during some of the agency’s most challenging moments.”

Lhota last led the MTA as chairman from October 2011 to December 2012, when Superstorm Sandy battered the system. He had resigned to – unsuccessfully – run for the mayor of New York City as a Republican.

His second term with the MTA involved the creation of the Subway Action Plan, a $836 million initiative aiming to “stabilize and improve the subway system” and restructuring the MTA’s leadership system.

The MTA had also introduced a number of initiatives to control the “summer of hell” expected from Penn Station repairs in 2017, ranging from fare reductions to alternative service options. This level of on-time service and minimal disruptions, Lhota had quipped, would be “the new normal.”

But it also involved overall poor performance with the Long Island Rail Road, with the agency frequently reporting the worst monthly on-time ratings in years – and sometimes decades.

While it’s immediately unclear why Lhota resigned, he has faced concerns over potential conflicts of interest. Earlier this year, Politico reported that emails suggested Lhota, who served as a paid director at Madison Square Garden and MSG Networks while MTA chairman, could have a conflict of interest.

Lhota’s potential conflict of interest is underscored by New York Arena Partners, a partnership that includes Sterling Equities, the Scott Malkin Group, Madison Square Garden and the Oak View Group and is planning a development at Belmont Park.

The development centers around a new arena for the New York Islanders, a team MSG Networks has the broadcast rights to.

Lhota had previously told reporters that his term ends on “June 10, 2021,” when asked how much longer he plans to stay at the agency.

In a statement, Lhota said he had volunteered to become MTA chairman “with the sole purpose of halting the decline of service and stabilizing the system for my fellow New Yorkers.”

“When I agreed to return to the MTA it was with the understanding that I would maintain my private sector positions and delegate day-to-day responsibility to a new team.” Lhota said. “Accordingly, I created the Office of the Chairman for the purpose of managing the MTA.”

In a letter sent to MTA staff, Ferrer and the MTA’s administrators praised Lhota and the staff, saying the agency is “well-positioned for a renaissance.”

“We are extremely grateful for the steady leadership he provided during his tenure,” they wrote. “Joe launched the Subway Action Plan, reinvigorated the MTA and set us on the path to success.”

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