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NY1's Grace Rauh and Courtney Gross examine what's shaped the lives of mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio and Joseph Lhota in this two-week special series.

The Contenders: After Returning To Private Sector, Lhota Guides MTA Through Sandy

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Joseph Lhota received rave reviews for his stewardship of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority during Hurricane Sandy. In the latest chapter of "The Contenders, NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report on his short tenure there and his decision to leave the agency and run for mayor.

He left City Hall in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, and Joseph Lhota returned to what he considered home: the private sector.

"I'm a private-sector person, and doing staff work as opposed to bottom-line responsibility, I was able to do both during that period of time," he said.

For about 10 years, he was a high-level executive at Cablevision and then at Madison Square Garden. Records show he at one point lobbied the city on the corporation's behalf.

In 2005, Lhota was diagnosed with lymphoma, an illness he said he contracted from spending time at the World Trade Center site after the September 11th attacks. He is in remission.

Lhota was thrust back into public service in 2011, when Governor Andrew Cuomo tapped the Republican to lead the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Taking the wheel of the agency, Lhota restored millions of dollars in service cuts. He was in the driver's seat for another fare hike, scheduled increases that predate his tenure.

"I'm concerned about the middle class in this city," he said.

However, it was Hurricane Sandy that was his defining moment. Deciding to shut down the subways, Lhota is also credited with bringing the system back in four days.

"Sandy wrecked havoc on the entire transportation system," he said on October 30, 2012.

"The way to look at it is, it's getting better and better every day," he said on November 2, 2012.

"Service began this morning at 10 o'clock on the 4, the 5," he said on November 3, 2012.

A year later, his performance still gets high marks.

"He led those troops very, very well, and as a result, what could have been catastrophic for a system like us was something that set us back a few days, but we got back on our feet and back on the rails," said Fernando Ferrer, vice chairman of the MTA.

Lhota's tenure at the MTA was just 14 months, so some transit advocates, as well as some who oversee the agency, say he wasn't there long enough to make a significant impact.

"I accomplished my first-year goals," Lhota said. "I also had second-year goals and third-year goals and all of that, and those I won't accomplish."

Lhota left the agency without negotiating a new contract with the transit workers' union.

"The contract negotiations stalled ultimately because Lhota tried to ram a series of concessions down the throats of transit workers, which were just unacceptable to us," said John Samuelsen, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100. "Hence, we didn't settle a contract with him."

Lhota says that starting in the summer of 2012, before Hurricane Sandy, he was toying with the idea of running for mayor. Then, in December, he resigned.

"This will be a life-defining decision, and one that I will seriously be considering in the upcoming weeks," he said at the time.

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