Joe Lhota approved as Governor Andrew Cuomo's pick to lead MTA

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Joseph Lhota, who oversaw the New York City subway system during the recovery from Superstorm Sandy's devastation, is returning to again lead the nation's largest public transit agency.

The state Senate late Wednesday night approved Lhota as chairman of the troubled MTA after Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo nominated the 62-year-old Republican for the job. The GOP-controlled Senate confirmed Lhota's nomination after he appeared at a committee hearing via Skype before the Legislature adjourned for the summer.

Lhota's new title comes with many challenges, but he knows it because he's had the job before.

Lhota was front and center last week when MTA officials announced an aggressive summer schedule to get through two months of Amtrak repairs at Penn Station, and now, he replaces interim chairman Fernando Ferrer.

"The governor knows him, relies on him, trusts him, likes him," Ferrer said. "What more do you want? That's a good package to me."

Lhota was not available for an on-camera interview, but he responded in a statement.

"This is an incredibly challenging time for the MTA," he wrote. "And we will immediately and aggressively tackle the problems the system is facing after decades of disinvestment."

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who defeated Lhota when he was the Republican candidate for mayor, commented on the appointment while speaking on WNYC radio.

"I have a lot of respect for him, and I think he did some good work as head of the MTA," he said. "Particularly and obviously in dealing with the (Superstorm) Sandy crisis."

Previously, Lhota was both chairman and chief executive officer during the massive post-storm cleanup effort, charged with getting the heavily damaged subway system up and running again.

With the jobs now separated, he must choose a new chief executive officer.

"There has to be a commonality of purpose," Ferrer said. "There can't be a quarter inch of sunlight between you two."

Cuomo said Lhota's salary will be $1 per year, and he'll continue serving as senior vice president, vice dean and chief of staff at Manhattan-based NYU Langone Medical Center.

NYPIRD Straphangers Campaign attorney Gene Russianoff weighed in, saying, "Job number on for Mr. Lhota now is to develop a rescue plan to save riders suffering from a tidal wave of delays, poorly-performing subway cars and severely aging equipment,"

They believe he also needs to win critical financial resources, and the mayor is looking for greater MTA accountability dealing with the subways.

"We are demanding a bigger plan to get to the underlying matters and to shift resources in the MTA budget to the subway system," de Blasio said. "Which is by far is the most important thing the MTA does."

Lhota takes over an aging subway and commuter train system reeling from a series of recent service problems, including malfunctioning signals, prolonged backups and passengers stuck in dark, sweltering cars.

"He put some strong measures in place," Ferrer said. "And the rebuilding effort, incidentally, continues."

The position has been vacant since MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast retired in January.
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