One watch group, is focusing on Kathryn Lhota’s three months of employment on the political team of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, while her father ran the Cuomo-controlled transit system. A recent article in Crain’s New York is questioning whether this presented a potential conflict of interest for her dad, Joseph Lhota, who was the Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman at the time.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had reappointed Mr. Lhota, who made an unsuccessful bid for mayor of New York City, to the role in June 2017. Mr. Lhota resigned from the post in November. Despite his short tenure, he was lauded for having brought about MTA improvements and cleaning up dirty stations. While he was Chairman, subway delays also hit a three-year low, in September 2018. Mr. Lhota had publicly disagreed with Mayor Bill de Blasio about where the responsibility of fixing the subway system lay, and how much the city was responsible for contributing to the costs.
Kathryn Lhota, a registered Republican and the only child of Mr. Lhota, took an unpaid leave from her nonpolitical, $65,000-a-year de Blasio administration job. For four months, from August to November, the 27-year-old worked instead doing campaign work for Cuomo’s team, making close to $13,000, or a little less than she would have made at her regular job. She resided with her father at his Brooklyn Heights address all the while that she was employed by the party, as per the state committee’s disclosures. Her duties included crafting press releases for its state and congressional candidates, compiling news clips and internally directing reporters’ queries.
Good-government group, Reinvent Albany, was uncomfortable with the setup. “The issue, from our perspective as watchdogs, especially as a watchdog of authorities, is Lhota is supposed to be exercising independent fiduciary judgment as the chair and CEO [of the MTA] and is supposed to be exercising some independence from the governor,” said John Kaehny, Executive Director of Reinvent Albany. “It’s definitely a concern that he’s getting paid, through an entity controlled by the governor, the state Democratic Party—or [rather] his adult daughter, who he clearly continues to have a close relationship with, since he continues to live with her or she with him.”
Joseph Lhota himself did not receive a salary from the MTA during his most recent tenure, rather his income came from his prominent concurrent positions at NYU Langone and Madison Square Garden. Still, the watch group expressed concern that his daughter’s hiring by the state party may have compromised his ability to put the MTA’s interests ahead of the governor’s, and that her jobs should have required public clearance by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
“It comes across as the governor as rewarding one of his top appointees for doing what he wants. Even if that’s not true, there’s still that appearance. At a minimum, they should have sought an opinion on it from JCOPE,” said Kaehny. “Being that she’s a registered Republican, why would she want to work on Democratic campaigns? That’s a fair and natural question for the public to ask.”
State party leaders said Ms. Lhota’s hiring was a consequence of a very positive professional recommendation that they received, and that potential employees are not asked about their political affiliation during the interview process. Joseph Lhota declined to comment.
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