From the CapTon morning memo, which you can subscribe to on the right-hand rail of this blog.

If there was a breakout star of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet in 2012, it was MTA Chairman Joe Lhota.

The red-bearded transit chief earned praise for his handling of the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy that crippled the city’s public transportation network.

Lhota’s position is one that could have easily made him a public pariah. After all, we usually think of the MTA chairman as a faceless bureaucrat who we only hear about when fare hikes are increased. Any slip up during the storm — any major delay in getting subways, buses and trains back up and running, and blame would have been piled on Lhota.

But Lhota’s public persona skyrocketed, despite his initial mandate of being the fiscal fixer of the system.

Lhota urged patience after the storm, praising the work of transit workers who were pumping out the waist-high water in the underground tunnels.

Naturally, Lhota’s performance and connections to the city’s elite evolved quickly into talk that he would enter the mayoral race on the Republican side.

It remains to be seen if Lhota can transform himself from bureaucrat to the kind of bold citywide politician New Yorkers in the past like to elect — think Ed Koch or Rudy Giuliani. Lhota, recall, was a deputy in Giuliani’s administration. Whether his Democratic opponents seek to tie Lhota to Giuliani’s more controversial moments in his administration is a given.

The move certainly shakes up a race that already was earning yawns. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, so concerned about who might take over after his three terms, even approached Hillary Clinton about running.

For Democrats, the danger is a repeat of the 2001 campaign and it’s very real. A circular firing squad could enable yet another loss, thus shutting them out of an office they haven’t held since 1993.

Lhota faces the usual disadvantageous for a Republican: A 6-to-1 enrollment edge and public polling that shows him not even breaking into double digits against an unnamed Democratic candidate.

For Cuomo, there’s a new challenge now that his “wartime MTA chairman” is seeking greener pastures.

The Democratic governor at a cabinet meeting earlier this month told reporters that he had no qualms about losing the chairman to city politics, even if he didn’t want to endorse anyone in the race. Cuomo did offer praise for Lhota’s handling of Sandy. The two men bumped into each other near the World Trade Center site just after the storm’s climax, viewing the devastation first hand.

Lhota, who had been working the back channels to determine whether he should run, rolled his eyes at the meeting when a reporter raised the question.

Now with him in the race, Cuomo will need to make a new appointment to the job that has taken on greater meaning post-Sandy.

Cuomo, who is seeking billions of dollars in relief aid from the federal government, will have to find a new leader for the MTA. It’s not an easy task to find someone who can not just fill Lhota’s shoes, but the desire to run one of the world’s most important mass transit systems.

Meanwhile, the MTA’s board met today to vote on a new fare hike (this is already giving Democratic hopefuls like Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s supporters an opening to attack Lhota).

The governor says he wants rebuild the city’s infrastructure in order to handle future extreme weather events, an expensive prospect that would likely need federal assistance and an MTA chairman who can help as an advocate and manager of construction.

With Lhota out, Cuomo’s list of needs for 2013 just got a little longer.