Joseph Lhota, who led the New York subways’ return to service days after Sandy’s floodwaters inflicted the worst damage in the system’s 108-year history, has told associates he will resign Dec. 21 as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Lhota’s resignation would clear a path legally for him to pursue a campaign for mayor next year, if he so chooses. Lhota won’t announce his candidacy when he resigns, said an associate from his days in City Hall as a deputy to former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The associate asked to remain anonymous because he wasn’t authorized to speak about it publicly.
Lhota, 58, a Republican appointed chairman of the MTA a year ago by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, is barred by state law from political participation. He would have to step down in order to campaign for mayor.
Advocates for his candidacy have sought to present their case to New York City Republican activists, including party chairmen in each of the five boroughs, friends said in interviews last month. One said that Lhota has informed Cuomo staff members of his intentions.
Some Republican county chairmen said they were interested.
“Joe Lhota’s candidacy would be one worth seriously considering, and frankly I would like to see him get involved,” said Robert Scamardella, who leads the Republican Party on Staten Island.
Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in the city by about 6 to 1, a fact that hasn’t stopped non-Democrats from getting elected since 1993, when Giuliani first won the office.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg was first elected in 2001 as a Republican, and ran on the party’s ballot line to win three terms, although he dropped his formal affiliation and declared himself an independent in 2007. He is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
Lhota won bipartisan praise for providing steady leadership in reviving a storm-paralyzed system last month that’s now almost fully restored.
One measure of Lhota’s popularity became evident Nov. 13, when sustained applause from business executives met City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s praise of his performance, during a speech before the Association for a Better New York, a civic group. Quinn is a Democratic mayoral hopeful.
In Brooklyn, Republican County Chairman Craig Eaton said he received two calls before Thanksgiving from high-level Republicans who asked him to attend a meeting early next week to discuss a candidate they said they weren’t able to name. They provided enough information for him to assume they meant Lhota, Eaton said.
Eaton said that at the time, he supported Adolfo Carrion, 51, a former Democratic Bronx Borough President and urban policy adviser to President Barack Obama who has given up his party affiliation and expressed interest in running as a Republican.
Lhota, the son of a New York City police officer, was a municipal finance banker at Credit Suisse First Boston Inc. before joining the Giuliani administration in 1994.
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