Georgetown students eager to make a splash in politics have no shortage of role models in Hilltop alumni. But it is rarer for alumni to throw their hats in the ring for the mayor’s office of the largest city in the country.
Joseph Lhota (MSB ’76) has entered the New York City mayoral race, whose November winner will replace current mayor Michael Bloomberg when he steps down at the end of the year.
Lhota, whose daughter Kathryn is a senior in the College, filed the necessary documents to register as a Republican candidate for the position Jan. 17 and has since revved up his campaign for the city’s top office, which will be decided on Nov. 5, 2013.
A longtime New York resident, Lhota was born in the Bronx and raised on Long Island. He then came to Washington, D.C., to study at Georgetown in 1972. Although he earned his degree in business administration, he says his time spent on the Hilltop helped guide him toward politics.
“As a Georgetown student in the ’70s, all of us were particularly interested in politics as an effective route for change at that time,” he said.
According to Lhota, 58, his experience in student government was an early indicator of his lifelong dedication to public service.
“I was part of the [Georgetown University Student Association] in the early stages of its creation,” he said. “I was the campaign manager for someone who was running for president of the student body, and I held the same position for another candidate the year before that. I think all of that certainly played a role in my doing some work on Capitol Hill after graduation.”
“It’s great to see that GUSA has such a storied history of producing people so highly influential in the political sphere, particularly in areas with such massive constituencies such as New York,” said Zachary Singer (SFS ’15), vice speaker of GUSA.
A few years after graduating from Georgetown, Lhota enrolled in Harvard Business School, where he earned his MBA in 1980, and followed that with 15 years on Wall Street.
Lhota noted that his principal motivation for running for New York’s mayoralty is his love for the city.
“My candidacy is a result of both my belief that I think that I offer more than the other candidates to best lead New York and my appreciation for the culture and community that make up this great city,” he said.
A current resident of Brooklyn Heights, Lhota holds strong family ties to the city. His father was a police lieutenant and his grandfather was a firefighter and taxi driver.
But Lhota himself is no stranger to serving the city. He worked as budget director in the administration of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and later as Giuliani’s deputy mayor in 1998.
“My experience working with Mayor Guiliani is only one factor in what better prepares me for this position in office,” Lhota said. “While not overwhelming, the position gave me an understanding of mayoral responsibilities and management that serves as a huge distinction from the other candidates.”
After a short hiatus from public service managing The Madison Square Garden Company, Lhotabecame the chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2011. Due to his success in preparing the city for Hurricane Sandy, Lhota and his campaign are reaping the benefits of his leadership during the crisis.
“It is no doubt how the MTA has performed and how quickly it has been able to return after the hurricane has been a major victory for the city,” he said. “It must be said that it was the workers who were greatly responsible for that success, but all summer long, the management team and I had been preparing for a situation like that, which led to our efficiency when the time came.”
Beyond the storm, Lhota said that he has emphasized a more user-friendly MTA, with improved facilities and more transparency for commuters. However, he was at the helm of the MTA, when the decision was made to increase subway and bus fares by a quarter — a move that could potentially hurt him with some voters.
But Lhota still has an almost heroic reputation over a decade after he raced towards Lower Manhattan to direct traffic after the Twin Towers were hit on Sept. 11.
While Lhota admitted that he has a big personality — he once gave the middle finger to a journalist, according to The New York Times — he says that he fits in among a long tradition of gregarious mayors.
“I think that great, outgoing mayors like Mayor Koch and Mayor Guiliani represent the city’s personality — loud, vibrant and going all the time,” he said.
Lhota may be challenged as a Republican candidate by a constituency widely made up of Democrats, but he said that he believes he can represent New York.
“I’m definitely a fiscal conservative, but when you look at my stance on social issues, they’re really quite progressive,” Lhota said. “We’ve had a Republican mayor for about twenty years now, and registration among city voters has not changed all that much. In my opinion, New Yorkers are very independent and they vote for the candidate, not the party line, and focus on campaigns based on the issues.”
The last Georgetown graduate to hold the top job in New York City government was Georgetown Law graduate John O’Brien, who served as its 98th mayor from 1933 to 1934.