NEW YORK CITY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has nominated transit veteran Thomas Prendergast, who currently runs the city's subways and buses, to serve as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's next CEO and chairman.
Prendergast, the president of MTA New York City Transit for the past three years, has been serving as the authority's interim executive director since Joe Lhota stepped down to run for mayor in January, and had been touted as the natural successor to lead the nation's largest transit system.
“Tom Prendergast is a consummate public transit leader who is the ideal candidate to oversee the nation’s largest transportation system,” Cuomo said in a statement announcing his pick Friday.
"From the track bed to the budget to modernizing our system for the 21st century, I can’t imagine anyone having a better understanding of how the region’s vast system operates and the challenges that it faces," he said.
The MTA has been without a permanent boss for more than three months now, leading some in the transit community to grow antsy about when Cuomo would finally make his pick.
But the choice was widely praised Friday by many who had been gunning for Prendergast publicly and behind the scenes.
"I think he's got the know-how and the smarts to be a great head of the MTA," said Gene Russianoff, chief spokesman for NYPIRG's Straphangers Campaign, who had served on the 2011 search committee that had first identified the Chicago native as a top pick.
He and others described the future chairman as a smart, straight-forward heavyweight who — above all else — knows his stuff.
"I think there's a lot of respect for him from the riding public and the transit workers because he's a hands-on guy," Russianoff said.
John Samuelsen, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, who previously said that he was nervous about endorsing Prendergast too enthusiastically for fear of compromising his chances, also praised the nomination, saying that Prendergast's unmatched knowledge made him by far the best choice.
"I don't think there's anybody in the country that had the combined operational knowledge that Prendergast had in terms of subway systems, bus systems and railways," he said.
The union remains without a contract, and negotiations have been in limbo since Lhota left.
While Samuelsen said the two have "rarely agreed" on anything in the past, he said he was glad to see the new leader was someone who identified with workers and not "some elitist, snobby rich guy, some real estate-type or Wall Street mogul" — a not-so-thinly veiled slap at former chairmen Lhota and Jay Walder, with whom he often butted heads.
"Prendergast understands the work we do," Samuelsen said. "He understands the value that transit workers bring to New York City and to the system."
Prendergast has worked in both the private and public sectors, with stints with the Chicago Transit Authority, the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C., and TransLink in Vancouver, Canada.
He has held numerous positions at the MTA, including chief of the System Safety Department, the agency’s Chief Electrical Officer and president of the Long Island Rail Road.
In a statement, Prendergast said he would focus his tenure on improving the customer experience, improving efficiency and investing in infrastructure.
“We will aggressively rebuild smarter and better in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy," he said in a statement.
Advocates also said Friday that, after a tumultuous succession of leaders (Russianoff counted six in as many years) they hoped Prendergast was in it for the long haul.
"We have reason to believe he'll stick around a good while," Russianoff said.