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Opinion

The race for new MTA chair

The MTA on Thursday, under a grim financial

The MTA on Thursday, under a grim financial forecast, proposed two new options for fare and toll increases in 2019. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

At a New York Transit Museum gala earlier this month, a photo of past MTA chairmen flashed on the screen — all white men. Joseph Lhota, according to sources who were there, remarked that perhaps it’s time for a woman to chair the MTA.

Since Lhota resigned 10 days ago, that’s been a running refrain.

Answers to questions about how the office will be set up, and whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo will stay local in his search, or look beyond New York for choices, remain to be seen.

But there are potential female contestants right here in New York.

Among the first names to come up in nearly every conversation: Veronique Hakim, the MTA’s current managing director and a past president of New York City Transit. Fernando Ferrer, who will act as chairman until a permanent replacement is chosen, told The New York Times he was a “huge fan” of Hakim, who goes by Ronnie. Before Lhota’s appointment, Hakim was among the finalists for the MTA chair job along with now-MTA president Pat Foye, who also has been named as a potential contender for chairman.

There’s Catherine Rinaldi, who heads Metro-North as its first female president. Rinaldi has a history at the MTA dating to 2003, and before that was an aide to Gov. George Pataki. But one source said Rinaldi’s appointment would be unlikely because she’d be jumping over others now higher in the MTA hierarchy.

Helena Williams, Nassau County’s chief deputy county executive, was the Long Island Rail Road’s first female president, and in 2009, served as the MTA’s interim chief executive and executive director. Polly Trottenberg, commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation and a member of the MTA board, has been a fierce advocate for NYC issues at the MTA. Those who doubt whether she’d be appointed mostly do so from a political standpoint, noting the acrimonious relationship between Cuomo, who appoints the MTA chair, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, for whom Trottenberg works.

It’s not hard to find a key female transportation chief beyond New York’s borders, too. The nation’s second-largest public transportation system — second only to the MTA — is the Regional Transportation Authority, whose system includes the Chicago Transit Authority.

Its executive director is Leanne P. Redden.

Randi F. Marshall is a member of amNewYork’s editorial board.

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