NEW YORK CITY — The city's public transit system remains without a permanent leader more than two-and-a half months after Joe Lhota stepped down as chair to run for mayor.
A Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman declined to weigh in on the status of the search for a replacement, directing all questions to the Governor's Office, which also remained mum on its plans to fill the slot, which is now being filled on an interim basis by board member and former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer.
"The Governor's office has said they're working on it," said Ferrer when asked about the progress at a board meeting last week.
Unlike last time around, the Governor has yet to announce plans for a formal search advisory committee to compile a list of potential candidates to run the largest transit agency on the continent.
But Ferrer noted that Cuomo's office had been "completely and fully engaged" on everything from coping with Superstorm Sandy to the re-opening of the South Ferry station, giving him confidence the governor was on top of the search, too.
"I know he's working on this," he said in a follow-up interview. "That answer satisfies me completely. And I expect a move here fairly soon."
Still, the clock is ticking. The MTA has now been without a permanent chair for 77 days — longer than recent previous vacancies.
When Jay Walder announced his resignation on July 21st 2011, for instance, Cuomo moved quickly to announce Lhota as his pick for successor on Oct. 20, the day before Walder's officially ended his tenure on Oct. 21, even though Lhota didn't officially start until the next year. Cuomo's pick will have to be approved by the state legislature.
Gene Russianoff, chief spokesman of the NYPIRG's transit advocacy group, the Straphangers Campaign, said it appeared the selection just wasn't a top priority for the governor.
"They have other fish to fry and this is not at the top of their to-do basket," said Russianoff, who served on the the 2011 committee, and said that was unaware of the process the governor was using to make his recommendation this time around.
Still, he said he wasn't concerned just yet.
"It can go on too long. I don't think it's at that point yet," he said. "But I wish it were further along than I sense it is."
Part of the reason for the lack of urgency, he said, was likely the fact that Thomas Prendergast, president of MTA New York City Transit, has been serving as interim executive director since Lhota stepped down, doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to operations.
"He's proving himself pretty effectively," he said.
John Samuelsen, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, also cited Prendergast as the reason there was not more concern over the delay
While he noted the two "never agreed on anything," he said that Prendergast's deep knowledge of the MTA system was unmatched by anyone else that has been floated as a potential successor.
"They're not going to find anyone who knows more about the system," he said, adding that he was concerned about sounding too enthusiastic for fear of compromising Prendergast's chances.
“I would be reluctant to even compliment Prendergast because I would be concerned that it would have a negative effect on him securing the position permanently," he said.
While Prendergast's name typically tops the list of talked-about successor, other names that have also been floated, sources said, include Lawrence Schwartz, a top Cuomo aid, and Nuria Fernandez, the current Chief Operating Officer at the MTA.
Ferrer, who made it clear when he was appointed that he didn't want to keep the job, said that he was enjoying the experience of playing the understudy, for now.
"Who wouldn't be? A kid from The Bronx finds himself acting chairman for a while," he said. "So I'm having fun. It's enormously satisfying. At any point in your life, this kind of public service is a high service. So I'm not counting the days," he said.
But he stressed there was no chance he would be on the short list.
"I didn't apply. The governor didn't ask. So let's not get hypothetical. I will be replaced by a chairman and CEO; that will be a good thing," he said.
Last time around, the governor's short list including Prendergast, Daniel Grabauskas, the former general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, and Nuria Fernandez, a former deputy administrator with the Federal Transit Administration, according to reports from the time.
With reporting by Patrick Wall