The former transit official who led the New York City subway system's recovery from Sandy filed paperwork Thursday making his bid for mayor official.
Former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota appears to be leading among Republican candidates vying to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but will be challenged by Democrats in a city where they're strong
NBC 4 New York first reported Lhota planned to leave the MTA and vie for the top city job.
Lhota is a 58-year-old Bronx native who grew up on Long Island. A graduate of Georgetown University and Harvard Business School, he's the son of a unionized sheet metal worker who later became a police lieutenant and a grandson of a New York City firefighter.
In an interview with NBC 4 New York Thursday, Lhota said he's dreamed of being mayor for decades.
"The notion of running for mayor entered my mind years and years and years ago, quite honestly. Probably even before I was in City Hall," he said.
He supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights, but is considered fiscally conservative — in favor of keeping the lid on city spending.
Lhota isn't afraid to take shots at labor groups; unlike the Democrats in the 2013 mayor's race, Lhota strongly criticized school bus drivers.
"Those school bus drivers work for private companies and they want to be treated like civil servants. They're not," said Lhota. "They have this misguided notion. And they're treating schoolchildren in a very despicable way."
Under Rudy Giuliani, Lhota was a deputy mayor and budget director. He later went into business as a top executive at Cablevision and Madison Square Garden and took on the MTA post in 2011.
With Bloomberg term-limited, the field for November's election already includes several other declared and likely candidates — including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Bill Thompson, a former city comptroller. All are Democrats.
Lhota said the other candidates have "little pieces of experience in their backgrounds but not the broad background that’s necessary to run the city."
Lhota said his priorities as mayor would be continuing a laser-like focus on education, growing the economy and keeping crime down.
In response to a new Quinnipiac poll saying 63 percent of voters would be more likely to support a candidate who promises to reappoint the current police commissioner, Lhota said, "I think it’s presumptuous for a mayoral candidate to start talking about who their next commissioner will be. If I’m elected, I will have with Ray Kelly a discussion about whether he wants to stay or whether he wants to move on to something else.”
Lhota also says it would be dangerous to eliminate the city’s stop question and frisk policy. He says he would not reverse Mike Bloomberg’s supersized soda ban, though he would have opted for a broader public education campaign before seeking a ban.
Lhota stands out as a public official who says what he thinks — bluntly. He once displayed his middle finger to a reporter at City Hall.
Lhota describes himself as less “reserved” and more “outspoken” than Bloomberg and “a lot more progressive on social issues” than his old boss Rudy Giuliani.
On the day of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, he rushed to lower Manhattan to help direct traffic amid the emergency.
After Sandy, Lhota is credited with saving subway service by shutting down the system before the storm.