Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed MTA construction chief Janno Lieber to lead the agency as acting board chairperson and chief executive officer as of July 31, the governor announced just one day before the current transit boss Pat Foye leaves the job.
“Our public transportation systems will be the backbone of New York’s comeback as more and more people return to work in-person,” Cuomo said in a statement Thursday, July 29. “Janno knows what it takes to make the MTA work for the millions of customers who rely on this system every day to get to their destination.”
The move — first reported by NY1 — comes ahead of Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s outgoing chairman and chief executive officer Foye departing on Friday, July 30, before he heads to lead the state’s Empire State Development Corporation in September.
Cuomo originally pushed a bill in the state Legislature last month to split the MTA’s leadership into two positions, nominating Lieber for the CEO role to manage the agency’s day-to-day, and tapping interim New York City Transit president Sarah Feinberg for the unpaid chairperson job.
Feinberg would be the first woman to serve in the agency’s top leadership.
But government watchdog groups sounded the alarm about Cuomo’s maneuver during the 11th hour of Albany budget negotiations, saying it would undo reform measures from 2009 to reunify the position in order to keep the Authority’s chief more independent.
The piece of legislation got the thumbs up in the Assembly but didn’t make it to the state Senate.
In a statement, Lieber said he was ready to take the reins of North America’s largest public transportation system and lead its 70,000-strong workforce, but urged lawmakers to still move ahead with the bifurcation bill.
“I am excited to get to work leading the MTA’s continued recovery from the pandemic, though I am disappointed I won’t yet be working alongside my supremely qualified friend Sarah Feinbergm,” the freshly-minted transit bigwig said. “We are still counting on the Senate to act on the Governor’s proposal and approve her historic nomination as the MTA’s first woman chair.”
Feinberg took over as temporary chief of the city’s subways, buses, and para-transit in March 2020, after the departure of her popular predecessor and “train daddy” Andy Byford, who left due to Cuomo’s interference in the agency.
She stayed at the helm through the unprecedented crisis of coronavirus, which infected thousands of transit workers and killed more than 150 MTA employees — not to mention the devastating 90% drop in ridership, which has since recovered to about half of pre-pandemic levels.
She will leave her position on Friday as well, and she said she hopes to still get the chairperson job if the Senate approves Cuomo’s proposal.
“While I am disappointed in the Senate’s delay in taking up deliberations of our nominations, I have no doubt Janno will do a tremendous job in the acting role,” Feinberg said in a statement. “He is a visionary leader who has proven time and again during his tenure at Construction & Development that he can deliver on key projects in moments of crisis. I hope to join him soon in leading the MTA and region through this next chapter.”
It is still unclear who will assume the lead of New York City Transit after Feinberg leaves.
Lieber was appointed chief development officer in 2017 by Cuomo and he also presides over MTA’s capital construction and manages the agency’s real estate assets.
He previously worked as a real estate executive for Silverstein Properties between 2003-2017, leading the firm’s effort to rebuild the World Trade Center site after 9/11.
Before that, he served in the administrations of President Bill Clinton and Mayor Ed Koch and worked as an attorney in private practice.
Transit advocates praised Lieber as an experienced professional and called on Cuomo, who controls the MTA, to support the agency by finding qualified replacements for Lieber and Feinberg.
“The governor must give Janno the resources to provide what riders need, including by rolling out congestion pricing to finally fix the subway,” said Riders Alliance executive director Betsy Plum in a statement. “The governor must also recruit and promote experienced leaders for New York City Transit and MTA Construction and Development.”
Leaving MTA headquarters at 2 Broadway in Lower Manhattan for the last time Thursday afternoon, Foye thanked his colleagues who gathered in celebration.
Here’s MTA chief Pat Foye bidding goodbye to his colleagues at 2 Broadway pic.twitter.com/TmeglRzI2E
— Kevin Duggan (@kduggan16) July 29, 2021
“My 70,000 colleagues have done just an amazing job, it’s been an honor and privilege for me to lead the organization, I thank Governor Cuomo for the opportunity,” the outgoing transit chief told reporters.
He remained tight-lipped about who will lead New York City Transit after Feinberg leaves Friday, saying only that he expects someone to take her position soon.
“The Transit situation will be resolved in — I would expect — short order,” so Foye. “There is extraordinary talent here and Janno is an extraordinary and will be an extraordinary leader of the MTA.”