Two More Ex-Governors Say Port Authority Has Long History of Problems

An iron worker atop One World Trade Center (photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Two more Governors are speaking out against last week's audit of the Port Authority.

Former Governor Elliot Spitzer was Governor from June 2007 until March 2008. He says the latest Port Authority audit by Navigant Consulting was unfair to his successor Governor David Paterson and Paterson's pick to lead the Port Authority, Executive Director Chris Ward.

That audit sharply criticized the Port Authority, and, by implication, Ward, who led the bi-state agency until this fall. But Spitzer says Ward himself cut through a thick knot of problems.

"Chris cut through a great deal of it with deadlines that were imposed upon him, some legitimately, some for political purposes -- and got things moving The effort now to revisit and repaint that picture is unfair to Chris and inaccurate," Spitzer said in a telephone interview.

Spitzer's remarks back of those of his successor, David Paterson, who said in an interview that cost overruns at the Port Authority were in part driven by demands by New Jersey that every expenditure on the World Trade Center be matched by a similar layout across the Hudson.

Spitzer said Ward got the stalled project moving. He says Ward deserves credit for the on time completion of the Memorial that was the focal point for the global commemoration of the tenth anniversary.

Spitzer also said the Port Authority has become a fundamentally political organization.

"Inevitably over time organizations like that become dominated by politics, not substance. The Port has not escaped that," says Spitzer. "Overlay on top of that the reality of two states balancing and juggling competing political needs and you have clear opportunities for waste and outright corruption."


Former Democratic New Jersey Governor Dick Codey, who is now a state senator, is also backing his former cohorts accounts that the Port Authority has long been beset with problems.

Codey said during his tenure from 2004 until the beginning of 2006 he was frustrated by the lack of progress at Ground Zero. He said from his first-hand experience overseeing the agency it's bi-state nature slowed progress and drove up costs.

" I mean obviously it took way too long to get that done and that is the problem when you have a bi-state agency; one wants to do it their way, the other wants it their own way.

"The thing I was frustrated at was the lack of progress dealing with the World Trade Center site," Codey said in an interview. " You got to compromise and sometimes that compromise takes a very long time, and the money you thought it would take to rebuild just escalates."

Codey says the governors of both states, including himself, were too quick to let the Port Authority carry the huge cost of rebuilding the site. "I think if there is any criticism to be laid at any Governor is that we were not vigilant in going after Federal money because is really a monument to our country as opposed to New Jersey or New York. It was not new Jersey or new York that were hit that day. It was America, clearly."

Both Codey and Spitzer say that any meaningful reform of the Port Authority has to include ending what has become the standard practice of the Governors from both states appointing campaign contributors to the powerful Port Authority Board of Commissioners. They oversee the agency that generates more than $4 billion dollars in revenue annually and employs almost 7,000 people.

"Part of the problem is that we want people that are non-partisan and who are professionals and clearly we have gotten away from that," says Codey. " There is no question about it. People that are on these authorities are big donors. Whether that be on my Democratic side or on the Republican side. So I think both parties need to take a hit on this. "

Both former Governors say the Port Authority, originally established to facilitate the development of the region's Port and transportation infrastructure, has to get back to its core mission. Forays into so called "economic development projects" are examples of a diversion from that mission.

"Well you would think that Port Authority is running the bridges and tunnels and that would be it," says Codey."These economic things that came about maybe 15 years or so, why? I don't understand. You are supposed to be doing the infrastructure that binds us together. And yet we have gone away from that. Economic development is really the federal government and the state's role."

After signing off on controversial toll and fare hikes Governors Christie and Cuomo called for a first of its kind internal audit of the bi-state agency that was first created in 1921. The audit found that the agency had more than doubled its debt from $9 billion to $21 billion in just ten years while boosting the compensation for its own workforce by 19 percent over the last five.