Joseph J. Lhota, a deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration known for a pugnacious yet affable demeanor and an expertise in budgets and finance, was nominated on Thursday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to be the next chairman and chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Mr. Lhota, a former investment banker and longtime public official who is currently a top-level executive at the Dolan media and sports empire, is to replace Jay H. Walder, a reform-minded chairman who abruptly announced he would be resigning his post to take a job in Hong Kong. The nomination must be confirmed by the New York State Senate.
If confirmed, Mr. Lhota would inherit an ailing agency in dire financial straits: the transportation authority is scrambling to fill a $10 billion hole in its capital budget, which pays for the maintenance and repair of its subways, commuter trains, buses, tunnels and bridges; in addition, a powerful group of suburban Republicans are eager to repeal a critical tax that finances the agency’s operations.
In January, the authority will also enter contract negotiations with dozens of its labor unions, a fight that is expected to be protracted and difficult.
Mr. Lhota, a Republican whose wife is a prominent party fund-raiser, was selected after a months-long search by a corporate headhunter and a committee appointed by Mr. Cuomo. He served as both budget director and deputy mayor for operations in the Giuliani administration, arguably the most powerful positions other than mayor in City Hall.
But while he was considered a loyal advocate of his mayor, Mr. Lhota also maintained a reputation as an independent thinker who, as one observer put it, “did not drink the Giuliani Kool-Aid.”
Mitchell Moss, a professor of transportation policy at New York University and a member of the search committee, called Mr. Lhota “the right guy at this time in the M.T.A.’s history.”
“He has precisely the skills necessary to lead the M.T.A.,” Professor Moss said. “Experience dealing with labor, dealing with fiscal challenges and dealing with federal, city and state governments.”
Still, Mr. Lhota has little background in transit, aside from a brief stint on the transportation authority’s board. Some offered a more measured endorsement.
Gene Russianoff, the longtime riders’ advocate, said that he found Mr. Lhota charming and intelligent. But, acknowledging Mr. Lhota’s reputation as a hard-line cost cutter, Mr. Russianoff said that he hoped the transit system would not suffer from a excess of fiscal prudence.
“He is going to be judged with how honest he is about the impact of budget cuts to the quality of service and the level of fares,” Mr. Russianoff said.
The son of a New York City police lieutenant, Mr. Lhota grew up on Long Island, earned degrees from Georgetown and the Harvard Business School, and currently lives in Brooklyn Heights. He once described his hobbies as drinking Scotch and smoking cigars.
Also on Thursday, Mr. Cuomo appointed two other executives to lead his administration’s transportation agenda. Nuria Fernandez, a former commissioner of Chicago’s major airports, will serve as the authority’s chief operating officer, and Karen Rae, a top-level federal railroad administrator, will be the governor’s deputy secretary of transportation, a cabinet-level position.