Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
Team Christie Mum After Paper Calls on Port Chief to Resign
Friday, February 21, 2014
Governor Chris Christie's press team has remained quiet in the wake of a a call by New Jersey's largest newspaper for the resignation of Christie's top man at the Port Authority. The Star-Ledger wrote that David Samson “hit bottom" when he called the "weeklong traffic bomb his co-workers dropped on Fort Lee last September an 'inconvenience.'"
The paper added: "Samson’s half-hearted attempt at remorse ignored his own failures as head of this hopelessly broken agency — a list of ethical lapses, broken promises and business-as-usual, with new examples breaking by the day."
A Samson spokeswoman, Sarah Tremallo, hired in the wake of the Bridgegate revelations, said the team isn't responding to editorials.
Samson is a close confidante of Christie's. He chaired the governor's transition team, travels with the governor on political trips, and was tapped by Christie to chair the Port Authority in the fall of 2010.
Samson's name shows up in Bridgegate emails, where he's described by Christie's former appoinee David Wildstein as"retaliating" for the re-opening of the Fort Lee access lanes to the George Washington Bridge. Samson's own emails show fury at Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye, an appointee of New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who Samson believed had leaked word of the "aberrant" lane closures to the press. One Samson email said Foye "is playing in traffic. Bad mistake."
In his marathon press conference after the release of those emails, Governor Christie said of Samson: "I sat and met for two hours yesterday with Mr. Samson—General Samson—and again, I'm confident that he had no knowledge of this, based upon our conversations and his review of his information."
Christie refers to Samson as "General" due to his stint as the state's Attorney General under former Governor Jim McGreevey.
Since that press conference, WNYC has reported on a number of cases where Samson took action in his official capacity at the Port Authority, while his private law firm also had a financial interest. But Governor Chrisite, who hasn't held a press conference since January 9th, hasn't explained why he's still standing by Samson in the wake of new information on potential conflicts. Christie's press team hasn't responded to numerous emails over the last two weeks.
The Star-Ledger said "Samson's conflicts of interests are well documented" and concluded: "Samson needs to go. Certainly, he’s not the source of all that ails the Port Authority, but he is the guy in charge. Beyond Bridgegate, his tenure as the Port Authority’s chair has been a failure. Despite promises of transparency and reform, the agency remains a dysfunctional patronage pit. Samson’s conflicts of interest are well-documented, and his resignation would be a fitting first step toward fixing a troubled agency."
Among the conflicts that WNYC has reported:
*Samson's lobbying and bond counsel business has soared since he became Port Authority Chief.
*Samson voted for a $256 million PATH station upgrade in Harrison while two of his private clients stood to gain.
*He pushed a Port Authority plan to take over the Atlantic City airport while his firm worked for the old airport operator.
*A lobbyist working for Samson convinced NJ Transit to pay for a train station benefitting a client -- while the Port Authority was taking official action to benefit NJ Transit. Samson's firm had done separate work for NJ Transit.
In addition, MSNBC first reported that a Samson client that had benefitting from a $75,000 Port Authority grant was a the center of an alleged threat by the Lt. Governor to withhold Sandy aid if the Mayor of Hoboken didn't green light that client's development in Hoboken.