Peabody 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: "We Apologize" For Bridgegate
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
In their first public statements to date on the Bridgegate scandal, commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey apologized for the hazards to public safety and convenience caused by two appointees of Governor Chris Christie when they closed lanes at the George Washington Bridge last September.
The apologies came five months after drivers and elected officials began asking about what happened that September week when traffic in Fort Lee was gridlocked for hours on end.
But on Wednesday, in the face of several investigations and mounting questions, several commissioners of the bi-state agency, including top Chris Christie appointee David Samson, personally apologized.
"I cannot allow this agency to be mischaracterized by the actions of a few individuals when the day-to-day work of so many, including this board, is so important," said Samson. "On behalf of the board of commissioners, we are deeply sorry for inconvenience caused to our travelers."
Samson stopped short of apologizing for endangering members of the public, as another board member did earlier in the day. Citing multiple investigations -- by the U.S. Attorney, New Jersey Lawmakers, the Port Authority Inspector General, and still more federal agencies -- Samson said he trusted the full truth would come out and the public would fully understand all the facts. But he didn't take questions, slipping out after the meetings as aides kept reporters away.
Samson's remarks came at the beginning of the first Port Authority board meeting since the disclosure of the now infamous "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email from Chris Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff to one of Christie's top men at the Port Authority, David Wildstein.
Samson has been under particular scrutiny since the lane closure scandal broke, in light of revelations that he pushed public actions at the Port Authority that might have benefited his private clients.
Port Authority Vice Chair Scott Rechler, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's top appointee, made an apology earlier that went further than Samson's. Rechler said the board is sorry both for risks to public safety and for inconveniencing Port Authority customers trying to get over the George Washington Bridge.
"We're apologizing for the fact that it became at least abundantly clear that some of the members of the Port Authority shut down lanes and put public safety at risk," said Rechler.
Rechler's remarks came after the first public meeting of a new special Committee on Oversight, established in the wake of the bridgegate disclosures. At a press conference later in the day, Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye said the committee was established "to make sure aberrant behavior does not recur, to take steps to improve governance at the Port Authority, and to review and improve the board's performance."
At the committee meeting on Wednesday, several commissioners, from both sides of the Hudson, said they wanted to make sure nothing like the lane closures "happened again."