Lhota calls racism on MTA boss who wore blackface at costume party
A high-ranking MTA boss won a 2014 promotion even after his colleagues reported shocking photos of him wearing blackface — and now the agency’s chair is red-faced with outrage.
“Wearing blackface is racist,” MTA chair Joe Lhota said Wednesday, speaking at this month’s board meeting.
Lhota was responding to a Tuesday expose by NBC News on Richard Ranallo, a white MTA official who’d dressed up for a 2013 Halloween party as a black “lawn jockey” — complete with a blue-and-white checked jockey uniform and a railroad-style lantern.
Photos of the offensive costume emerged on Facebook, resulting in several MTA employees complaining to higher-ups, NBC reported.
Still, the following year, Ranallo was promoted to a supervisory position at MTA subsidiary Metro North that paid a reported annual salary of $263,327.
“It was a breakdown all the way,” Lhota said of the communications failure. “That culture needs to change.”
Also speaking at Wednesday’s board meeting, MTA president Catherine Rinaldi said the agency must create an environment where workers feel comfortable reporting attacks and racial incidents.
Some of the whistleblowers interviewed by NBC had complained of alleged workplace retaliation by Ranallo after their complaints were made known.
“We need to make changes across Metro North to encourage people to come forward,” Rinaldi said. “By encouraging people to come forward is the only way we’re going to eradicate racism at Metro North.”
The whistleblowers’ concerns should have sparked an immediate investigation, Lhota told reporters after the meeting.
An investigation will still be launched, he said, “into what happened and what happened internally.”
But despite the MTA honchos’ anger over Ranallo’s costume and promotion — and any alleged whistleblower backlash — Lhota was not optimistic that Rangallo will face any demotion or other repercussions.
Rangallo’s position may be protected under his “existing collective bargaining agreement,” he said.
“We may be precluded from that because of the labor agreement that we have,” he said.