Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
Governor Cuomo has hired in-house and tapped Tom Prendergast to be the new chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Prendergast is already president of New York City Transit, the part of the MTA that runs subways and buses.
The move puts an operations man at the helm of the nation's largest transit agency at a time when the authority faces a staggering task rebuilding after storm Sandy, as well as ferreting out money for transit in a time of shrinking budgets nationally and locally.
If confirmed by the State Senate, Prendergast will succeed Joe Lhota as chairman and CEO, an office Lhota vacated last December to run for mayor. Lhota held the job for barely a year, after the departure of Jay Walder to run the transit agency in Hong Kong. Walder, an appointee of former Governor David Paterson, had quietly clashed with Cuomo.
The appointment of Prendergast contrasts with that of Lhota -- who had never run a transit agency but rather served as a top administrator at Cablevision and as a deputy mayor for Rudy Giuliani. Lhota, a Republican, also had significant credibility with Republicans in state and federal government, and wasn't shy about using his clout to argue for more funds for transit.Prendergast has worked in public transit for more than forty years.
A native of Chicago, Prendergast joined the NYC Transit Authority in 1982, and became head of the Long Island Railroad in 1994. Prendergast eventually became the head of Vancouver's transit system, a job he held when he was recruited by former MTA chief Jay Walder to return to the MTA.
Lhota was hired after Cuomo named a wide-ranging search committee. By contrast, the decision to name Prendergast was made in-house, and stakeholders weren't notified until shortly before the announcement was made by press release at noon on Friday.
Among Prendergast's immediate tasks will be resuming a stalled negotiation with the Transport Workers Union, and repairing and hardening New York's transit system after Storm Sandy.
Prendergast is well-liked by transit advocates, who consider him one of them. Transportation Alternatives called the appointment "encouraging news" and Gene Russianoff, the head of the Straphangers, was quoted in the Governor's press release as saying that the campaign has "found Tom to be accessible, knowledgeable, smart and fair."