At Port Authority, Christie Appointees Took Control

Sunday, January 12, 2014 - 09:00 PM

Christie and Cuomo, in July 2012 (Getty Images/Getty)

On the evening of September 14, the day after he ordered the re-opening of traffic lanes to the George Washington Bridge, the executive director of the Port Authority, Pat Foye, was in conversation with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s top aides.  “Anything else on Wildstein and Baroni,” Foye urgently emailed his director of bridges and tunnels. “2nd floor request.  Need to know ASAP.”

“Second floor” is Albany-speak for the second floor of the state capitol, where Cuomo and his top staff have their offices.

But Cuomo had nothing public to say about the fracas for another three months, when he told Susan Arbetter of WCNY radio that he didn't know "anything more basically than what was in the newspapers” adding "basically this is a New Jersey issue." And if he or his staff ordered any action or inquiries, the documents are silent.

Meanwhile, Team Christie was emailing up a storm, making plans and exchanging messages behind Foye’s back.  “What a piece of excrement,” Governor Christie’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said of Foye after seeing his now famous email blowing the whistle on the bridge scheme.  “A piece of crap,” Wildstein agreed.

The different responses illustrate the power imbalance at the Port Authority between Governor Cuomo and Governor Chris Christie, one where Christie assumed unusual control of the political arm of the bi-state authority, sources say.

To be sure, the documents – more than 2000 pages of them – were given in response to a request for a specific, New Jersey-based scheme. But interviews with more than a half dozen current and former Port Authority and Cuomo appointees confirm that while Christie was staffing the Port Authority with his political aides and allies – and while those appointees were using the agency for what might be called “non-transportation” ends, Cuomo was ceding power.

Now, some history. The Port Authority is a bi-state agency. By tradition, the chair of the board is appointed by the New Jersey governor, the executive director, by New York’s.   Some years, ago, Governor George Pataki, a Republican, appointed George Marlin, the head of New York’s conservative party, to be the executive director of the Port Authority. The blatantly political appointment did not sit well with Christine Todd Whitman, New Jersey’s Governor, also a Republican. She insisted on appointing  a Deputy Director, who would report directly to the board. But even then, it was understood that operations would be run by New York.

In 2010, when Christie took office (a year before Cuomo), he rushed to staff up the agency. His top appointees were a former state senator, Bill Baroni and a political blogger, David Wildstein, who had once been Mayor of Livingston. A former Democratic Passaic county sheriff, Jerry Speziale, was given a job at the PAPD – and the sheriff’s seat went to a Republican. 

As the Record reported in January 2012, some 50 jobs went to appointees whose transportation resumes were thin but who had strong ties to Christie. “They came in like cockroaches” was how one staffer described the new Christie appointees.

As for Cuomo, when he took office in 2011, a David Paterson appointee Chris Ward, was at the Port Authority helm. But Cuomo couldn’t replace Ward while the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was pending.  So he focused on other things – gay marriage, changing the pension system, passing an on-time budget, cutting taxes. 

When Cuomo axed Ward and appointed Foye after almost a year in office, “the concrete was set” on the New Jersey side, source familiar with the Port Authority said. Cuomo didn’t bother to staff up the Port Authority with a team of political loyalists.

So when the, ahem, excrement hit the fan, Foye was essentially alone.  His emails to professional staff were immediately forwarded, privately, to Christie appointees.  Two of his press spokespeople hid inquiries from him.  As soon as he learned that Foye had halted the closures, Bill Baroni, Christie’s man, reached out to the chair of the Port Authority board, David Samson, a close Christie ally. “General, can I call you now?” Baroni wrote.

A few hours later, Wildstein emailed Bridget Ann Kelly, Christie's then deputy chief of staff. "We are appropriately going nuts. Samson helping us to retaliate."

Four days later, Samson wrote to Scott Rechler, Cuomo’s top man on the board. “I am told the ED leaked to the WSJ,” Samson wrote after a story appeared in the Wall Street Journal. “ Very unfortunate for NY/NJ relations.” When Rechler pushed back, Samson wouldn’t budge “he is playing in traffic, made a big mistake” he said of Foye.

In mid-December, the Wall Street Journal reported that the political loyalty went all the up to Christie.  The New Jersey Governor, the paper said, had called Cuomo to complain that Foye was pressing the New Jersey team too hard.

At a press conference that very day announcing his second resignation, that of Bill Baroni, Christie “categorically” denied the report.

Cuomo didn't push back. “The issue of the traffic study was primarily a New Jersey incident so our basic operating agreement  is when it has to do with New Jersey Governor Christie handles it when it has to do with  New York, I handle. It if it’s a management issue having to do with the port itself we handle it jointly. So I’m sure it is as Governor Christie says it is.”

Publicly, Governor Cuomo has expressed little interest in having a dog in this fight.




Comments [10]

iMan9796 from New Jersey

Gov.Cuomo stressed that the traffic scandal did not take place on his side of the bridge, which is controlled jointly by New York and New Jersey.“It was done on the Jersey side of the bridge,” he said. “The Jersey officials handled it.

The thefts from the PABT’s Lost & Found Dept. by PABT Supervisors along with their illegal written policy of throwing valid lost passports in the garbage happened on the NY side of the GWB, so the New York officals should handle it. Gov. Cuomo it’s your turn to act, & don’t act like you didn't know. I've come to realize that ignorance is not only bliss, it is also contagious & spans both sides of the GWB. The ball is in your court.

The culture of fear is alive and well at the Port Authority, closely followed by a culture of wretched stupidity. Believe me, I know firsthand and I have the evidence to prove it. GWB General Manager Robert Durando’s testimony at the New Jersey State Assembly Transportation Committee on 12/9/13 exposes the culture of fear that exists at the Port Authority, he is fully aware of what happens to whistleblowers at the Port Authority. Sadly, Durando and his boss Cedrick Fulton, along with many other Port Authority employees decided to put tens of thousands of lives in jeopardy just to save their own jobs. They are all cowards, nothing more than highly paid puppets of the Port Authority. Every single one of them must be fired & prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for aiding and abetting this criminal activity, because the Port Authority has degenerated into a cesspool of crime, corruption, cover-ups & retaliation staffed with a bunch of clowns, cowards, liars & thieves.

No one should be above the law, no matter who they are or who they work for.

Jan. 29 2014 07:21 PM
charles Kerecz

Just tell the truth

Jan. 14 2014 11:27 AM

This same type of Bridgegatesque corruption, cover-up & retaliation is standard operating procedure at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC by Port Authority Supervisors.

Gov. Christie promised to disclose any evidence “that come forward that requires action to be taken.” He added, “I will take it, no matter how much it hurts me personally or dismays me, because this is the job I asked for, and I’ve got to do it.”

I wonder if that applies to the well documented rampant theft of Lost & Found property at the Port Authority Bus Terminal by Port Authority Supervisors, and the illegal written policy of throwing lost valid passorts in the garbage instead of mailing them to their respective embassies if their owners could not be located and reunited with their lost passports. Now just imagine the damage that a terrorist cell or an identity theft ring could do with those valid passports. Google “Donna Lebourne abc news" & see the vile face of shame being confronted and exposed for the world to see.

If the Gov. is a man of his word, he can start by axing all the supervisors at the Port Authority Bus Terminal involved in this criminal activity, the supervisors that turned a blind eye to it, and all the supervisors who participated in the coverup and retaliation as well. Every single one of them must be fired & prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

A traffic study on 9/11...really, what’s next, the Port Authority giving all TSA airport screeners the day off on 9/11/14 to see if that speeds up the screening process study? I guess that makes as much sense as the Port Authority’s written illegally policy of throwing lost passports in garbage & letting their supervisors steal from the Lost & Found Dept. at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The new investigatory panel should investigate these crimes of the Port Authority as well.

Jan. 14 2014 07:50 AM
richard.thornton from princeton

New Jersey loves it's corrupt leaders.
Christie is just one more and after
Him, it will be another, and another..
Funny how everyone in NJ wanted corzine
Out? He was at least decent and

Jan. 14 2014 07:36 AM
Jim from NJ

The lanes where closed on the NJ side...

Jan. 13 2014 04:37 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Ahh...the plot thickens...

Jan. 13 2014 12:08 PM
Leo from queens

During this whole discussion, we have come to realize that the governors of NY & NJ have full control of the Port Authority and that they staff them with a mix of political hacks and competent people - Seems Christie iwth Hacks and Cuome with responsible people - The board and executives named seem to be accomplished individuals. but NONE of them has ANY experience or seem to have had an interest in transportation, infrastructure or commerce, which is what is needed to have a viable 'independent' authority to address the transportation and commerce infrastructure developments, operations, etc. that can make this region competitive and also productive and modern..
Though Foy seems to have had some ethics, it is still telling that he and Cuomo were playing politics because they knew of these abuses and kept quiet.
Questions for you and for WNYC journalists:
(1) How many of you are allowed to know about illegal, dangerous activities in the companies you work for and keep quiet and not report them? - In my jobs and I bet in your jobs you would be fired if you knew of illegal activities being conducted by ANYONE and did not report them.
(2) Why is it that cuomo has had control of the Port Authority for 3 years and just this past week decided that the PA is dysfunctional and is not addressing the competitiveness and modernization of the 2 key airports in the state and feels that he has to hire a new set of appointees to manage that?
(3) Why is the PA so dysfunctional that it is not doing its job (hint: its leadership, when not plotting some political hit job, has been concentrating solely on real estate development as opposed to transportation and commerce)and seems to be unable to or interested in seeing how critical its operations are to the economic development, viability of the NYC metropoliatn region?

Jan. 13 2014 11:26 AM
Andreas from Fort Lee

Perhaps after we finish with the investigation and realize Christi is just a school yard bully, we can ask the real question of why AAA suit against P.A. is still being delayed? As someone who has to pay $500+ every three weeks in Easy Pass / tolls to P.A. I want a forensic accounting investigation done, or I want part ownership of the WTC. It is pathetic that we have to pay for construction of the WTC rather than the P.A. doing their JOB and finding investors.

Jan. 13 2014 10:40 AM
Ruth Mullen from Riverdale

So far, Foye is the only guy who comes out of this looking good.

Jan. 13 2014 10:38 AM
Lbeavers from Central Jersey

The Jersey Shore Ad criticism is also that the Ad campaign's bid that included Christie and his family was $2 million dollars higher than the Ad campaign bid that didn't include Christie and family in the ad.

Jan. 13 2014 10:35 AM

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