Matt Katz, New Jersey Public Radio
Memory lapse? Lack of curiosity? Or something more sinister?
The Bridgegate investigative committee turned its focus Tuesday to the operations of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and both Democrats and Republicans seemed dumbfounded by the lack of oversight exercised by at least one member of the Port's board of commissioners.
Commissioner Pat Schuber testified that he never asked anyone at the Port Authority or governor’s office why the lanes were closed at the George Washington Bridge in September. Schuber said he didn’t know if the Port Authority was illegally paying for repairs at the Pulaski Skyway, which may be outside the scope of the agency. He couldn’t say why he didn’t attend public hearings in which tolls were proposed to go up more than 100 percent, and he showed little awareness of controversies about alleged conflicts of interest involving commissioners and toll money.
"We got our first-hand glimpse of the Port Authority by hearing a commissioner who didn’t seem to ask a question about anything," committee co-chairwoman Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said afterward. "I’m always curious about everybody else’s lack of curiosity."
Legislators said the testimony will help inform legislation planned to be introduced by both New York and New Jersey legislators to restructure the Port Authority.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, committee co-chairman, said Port Authority commissioners are reminiscent of the yes-men who make up the Soviet politburo.
"Again we have people coming in with broad memory lapses about anything they knew or heard or said about the lane closures," Wisniewski said. "[Schuber] asked no questions, had no curiosity, had no follow-up, and on many occasions had no interest on what was happening in front of him."
There were, however, at least some conversations between Schuber and David Samson, Gov. Chris Christie’s close friend and the top appointee at the Port Authority, after the lanes were closed. In a newly-released document dated two weeks after the lane closures, Samson emailed Schuber to tell him he saw a letter written by Weinberg complaining about the incident:
what a jerk! Do you want me to do anything? D.
Schuber responds with a reference to a 15-year-old campaign he had run against Weinberg:
That is kind of you, but no, it’s ok….I think she has never gotten over our 1998 Race!!
After the hearing, Weinberg was asked how she felt about being called a jerk by Samson, who has since resigned his position in the wake of federal investigations into his activities as the Port Authority chairman.
"I’ve been called a jerk by bigger men than he," she said.