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.
Port Authority Chair Samson, Under Fire, Voices Concern About Reform
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Attempting to put Bridgegate and other scandals behind it, the Port Authority is inviting a group of past directors and outside experts to advise it on reform. But board chair David Samson, under federal investigation for conflict of interest, said it will be hard to find a group of "impartial and independent" experts without "personal or business relationships" to the Port Authority.
He added he was "concerned about the existing relationships or existing connections to the authority." The board is moving to set up the panel anyway. Former Port Authority executives Richard Leone and Anthony Shorris, as well as Rutgers University professor Martin Robins and author Jameson Doig, were mentioned as possible panel members.
Samson did recuse himself at the Port Authority's Wednesday board meeting during a committee-level discussion of New Jersey Transit parking lots, as well as wages for airport workers. And he made a brief appearance at the full board meeting in the afternoon, before announcing he was recusing himself because of "the airport issue" and a vote on replacing the suspender cables on the George Washington Bridge. Samson then got up and left the meeting, thus missing the lengthy public comment section. One member of the public who signed up to speak: Bergen County freeholder James Tedesco, who said he spoke on behalf of all the Bergen County freeholders in presenting a resolution for Samson to resign from the Port Authority Board.
Bergen county Freeholder Tedesco comes to @PANYNJ to present resolution calling on Samson to resign. Calls board "inaction unconscionable"— Andrea Bernstein (@AndreaWNYC) March 19, 2014
Outside the meeting, a group of people protested against Samson.
During the board meeting, the Port Authority's oversight committee did propose one new procedure: roll call votes. Now, for the first time, board members' votes will be public.
And also @PANYNJ says someone "in real time" would know who's recusing himself from board votes— Andrea Bernstein (@AndreaWNYC) March 19, 2014
Speaking after the meeting, Port Authority executive director Pat Foye was asked how the internal panel tasked with reforming the Port Authority will work. His response: "There will be a panel, I think the list of names that was read today will be…those people will be on it. It may be added to, that will be up to the special oversight committee. And I think the Port Authority as an institution will benefit greatly from the candid exchange of views from those folks.”
And the Port Authority Board enacted another reform yesterday: abandoning the practice of voting "by consent," the Board implemented voice voting for the first time in recent memory. But even that didn't go off without a hitch: Vice Chair Scott Rechler, Governor Cuomo's appointee, took a vote on the George Washington bridge construction before hearing public comment. Then he withdrew the vote. But when it was retaken, it was the same -- all the votes in favor. Indeed, in three votes Wednesday afternoon, there were no dissents.