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NJ Transit's Secret Deal With Christie's Favorite Firm

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - 02:11 PM

WNYC

The law firm run by Governor Christie's top man at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, David Samson, extracted a secret agreement from New Jersey Transit that it would build a transit station in a favorable location for Samson's client.

The deal is already under scrutiny from federal prosecutors because Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer has alleged that Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno threatened to withhold Sandy aid if Mayor Zimmer didn't greenlight the project.

Now, records show that NJ Transit, an agency under Christie control, agreed to foot much of the bill for the station on the Hudson Bergen light rail line. The non-binding agreement, released under New Jersey's Open Public Records Act, promises that NJ Transit will bear the cost of "construction and construction coordination of the new HBLR light rail station and associated on-site improvements."

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said in an interview that the secret payment arrangement caught her by surprise. To even get the memorandum of understanding, Zimmer's office had to file a records request. "What's surprising to me is that NJ Transit entered into this agreement with one property owner, one developer, without talking to the city at all, without talking to other property owners," Zimmer said.

Planners say the station, once built, stands to greatly increase the value of the land.  "Generally, what New Jersey Transit will try to do is push the costs onto the developer," said Tom Wright, Executive Director of the Regional Plan Association, because developers can reap benefits from locations near transit stations.  Wright added "there's no set formula for how these deals are constructed."

But Wright criticized the way in which the deal was struck, without any public input or even the knowledge of Mayor Zimmer. "You would always expect the mayor to be involved," Wright said.

The deal was negotiated by Lori Grifa, a Wolff & Samson Attorney who had just come off a stint as a high-level Christie appointee.  Her efforts on behalf of the developer, The Rockefeller Group, were so assiduous that Hoboken's planning attorney, Joseph Maraziti, Jr., wrote to a Hoboken official that he was getting "the full court press on this. I have a voice mail from last night from Lori asking that I join a call this am with Lori and David Samson (Chair of PA.)" (The Record has some nice details on Grifa's lobbying of NJ Transit.)

The Port Authority had funded a $75,000 study of the project, which resulted in a favorable conclusion for Wolff & Samson's client.

NJ Transit would not comment, but said in a letter released with the document that "the possible need for a light rail station in Hoboken was first identified by professional planners over a decade ago."

Grifa and Samson did not respond to requests for comment. The Rockefeller group has since severed its relationship with Wolff & Samson, citing the controversy.

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Comments [2]

AlisonSchusterShea from Non Contigious area of South Hackensack, NJ

The bigger secret in NJ is the role of Wolf Samson involving the nations largest municipal junk bonds transaction and the large amount of fees it has generated through its client the thinly capitalized Canadian firm Triple Five and how is was awarded the American Dream Mall contract at the Meadowlands. It also is tied into to this article as Bergen County residents still have not gotten their Hudson Bergen Lite Rail, as Samson wants to have the lite rail go out to American Dream instead of up to Bergen County. Now Samson is dictating public policy based on his clients. Also the Bergen County Improvement Authority is planning to issue the bonds, despite the pledge of the County Executive NOT to issue any revenue bonds. Samson had the whole apporval process for this very large bond issuance greased through the Governors office, NJ DCA and the Local Finance Board. Also even more bizarre is that Chrisite ran on a pledge to have no PLA's (Project Labor Agreements) yet his own NJSEA allow PLA's and then the Labor union president and PA Commissioner Ray Pacino does something even more bizzare by endorsing the Republican Bergen County Executive even before her announcement to run or even any other candidates. Also the fraud of Bergen County GOP Party Boss Alan Marcus is so unreal, the other 49 states wouldnt even believe it.

Feb. 14 2014 08:35 PM
Eric F

Didn't Samson also work in the McGreevy administration? Pity no one at NPR saw fit to look into him back then. I wonder why?

Feb. 14 2014 08:54 AM

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