After helping to bring the new Second Avenue subway line into service over the weekend, the top official at the MTA announced he is stepping down. Transit Reporter Jose Martinez takes a look at Thomas Prendergast's legacy, and the challenges facing his replacement.
"Chairman Prendergast, God bless you, you're going to go down in history," Governor Andrew Cuomo said last month, in anticipation of the opening of the Second Avenue subway line.
Going down in history — perhaps. But, the head of the MTA definitely is going.
After seeing through the opening of the Second Avenue subway, MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast is heading for the exits after a three-and-a-half-year run leading America's busiest mass transit system.
"It's got to be one of the hardest jobs in the country," said Tom Wright of the Regional Plan Association.
For Prendergast, it has been the pinnacle of four decades in public transportation.
He was the rare MTA leader who spent most of his career at the agency.
Among his jobs: heading both New York City Transit and the Long Island Rail Road.
"Prendergast could run the railroad, he could run the bus system and he could run the subway system," said TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen. "And nobody else before him has had those qualities."
Prendergast's legacy includes overseeing repairs to the subways after the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
Expanding Select Bus Service, and developing a new capital program to maintain and expand the entire transit system.
And then there was his final act — meeting the latest deadline for opening the Second Avenue subway, a focus of Governor Andrew Cuomo, Prendergast's very demanding boss.
"Obviously opening up the Second Avenue subway is a good thing for him, even though he certainly didn't start that project," said Nicole Gelinas, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. "Nobody alive started that project."
"Prendergast understood the job, he understood the work we do," said TWU President Samuelsen. "The same can't be said for many of his predecessors."
Several previous MTA chairmen, like Dick Ravitch and Peter Kalikow, were real estate developers.
Cuomo says he wants Prendergast's replacement to be a transit system operator and developer, in part because of plans to turn the Farley Post Office building into a transit hub.
Watchdogs say that will be tricky.
"What riders really need is someone who not only understands public transit, but understands how to advocate for it, in Albany and with the state government," said John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance.
"The budget issues and the politics are always just enormous challenges to anyone trying to run this," said Wright of the Regional Plan Association.
Soon enough those will be someone else's problems.
Cuomo has said he intends to name a successor for Prendergast in a matter of weeks.