After sailing through two committee hearings, Joseph Lhota was unanimously confirmed by the New York State Senate to be chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Monday.
"I'm very pleased and honored," Lhota said afterwards, speaking to reporters outside the Senate gallery. "I'm looking forward to this opportunity to make a difference."
But it was the state senators themselves who sounded humbled.
"We're honored Joe would come back to public service," said state Senator Malcolm Smith, who seemed to be speaking for most of his colleagues. Lhota was a former New York City deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration.
Many senators expressed astonishment that the new MTA chair agreed to leave a job in the private sector. Lhota had been with Madison Square Garden Co. until the fall, when he replaced Jay Walder as head of the MTA. He’s taking over an authority largely viewed by many as "insular, inefficient, and — dare I say it — arrogant," state Senator Andrew Lanza said.
Lhota has his work cut out for him. During the hearings in both the finance and transportation committees, senators asked him about restoring bus service, whether he'd support tolling on the east river bridges and how he planned to solve the MTA's dismal financial picture. He was also grilled about what one senator called base inequities and a "revenue hostage" situation in the northern counties serviced by Metro North. He even had to defend the agency from the old trope that it keeps two sets of books.
Still, by the end of the afternoon, when the full senate convened to vote, senators buoyed by the promise of a new era at the MTA rose to their feet to give the new chairman a standing ovation.