The MTA board approved a major fare and toll increase Wednesday. But attention was focused instead on the political future of its chairman, Joe Lhota, who used the occasion to express his interest in running for mayor. Our Bobby Cuza has the story.
NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. -- The timing was peculiar. Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota talked about a run for mayor Wednesday minutes after presiding over the most politically unpopular move imaginable: A fare hike.
"Mr. Lhota, if you’re a Republican candidate, will you stick to the doctrine of no new taxes?" asked one person who spoke at an MTA board meeting Wednesday. "What else is a fare hike but a new tax on working people?"
Fare hike notwithstanding, Lhota, a Republican, is now poised to make a splash in next year’s mayor’s race. A former deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani, his handling of the MTA’s post-Sandy recovery won him high marks and prompted talk of a run, though it’s also now opening him up to criticism.
"The transit workers are the ones who expended their blood and sweat making this system run," said one person who spoke at the meeting. "I think I saw Joseph Lhota break a sweat chasing the TV cameras after Hurricane Sandy."
"What happened in Sandy, they deserve all of the credit," Lhota said at the meeting.
Barred by law from campaigning while MTA chairman, Lhota submitted his resignation to Governor Cuomo Wednesday, effective December 31st. Now, Cuomo must find a replacement, barely a year after Lhota took the reins and at a time the agency is lobbying for billions of dollars in federal aid.
"My decision was bittersweet," Lhota said. "I never expected this to happen. I never expected this opportunity to arise. But I will use every part of this opportunity to continue to support the MTA in everything that I do for the rest of my life."
Former Bronx Borough President and current MTA Vice Chairman Fernando Ferrer will become acting chairman. He praised Lhota’s leadership but stopped short of an endorsement.
"I do have clear choices with respect to the politicians I support," Ferrer said. "Let him get to that point and we’ll have a conversation about it."
Lhota will not be doing any campaigning just yet. In fact, he said he will have no further comment on his potential candidacy until he makes a final decision in early January. The fare hikes, meanwhile, take effect in March.