Report: Christie Used Port Authority as Political Tool
Tuesday, 11 Mar 2014 01:49 PM
By Drew MacKenzie
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration wielded the power of the Port Authority as a political tool to pay back friends and punish enemies, The New York Times’ review of the agency’s operations has found.
The favors began long before access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were shut down last year by the governor’s aides working for the interstate authority, causing traffic chaos as retribution for the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., refusing to endorse Christie’s re-election campaign.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in fact, presented 9/11 mementos from the World Trade Center, consisting of pieces of steel, to 20 mayors in the Garden State who the governor hoped would endorse him.
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Mayors further down the pecking order received other Port Authority perks, including personal tours of the National September 11 Memorial, or tours of the new World Trade Center construction site.
Then there were the mayors who given Port Authority money for jobs programs or new firefighting equipment, even in towns far from the port, the Times reported.
The authority was a way to reward or hire friends and to exact revenge against adversaries, and it was also used as a bank to fund projects when Christie tried to avoid raising taxes, according to the newspaper.
Christie appointed Bill Baroni, a state senator and loyal lieutenant, as deputy executive director of the authority soon after he was elected in 2009. In turn, Baroni named David Wildstein as director of interstate capital projects.
Christie also appointed David Samson, a former state attorney general who had led his transition team, as chairman of the board of commissioners for the authority, which was formed in the 1920s to run the various ports, tunnels, and bridges shared by New York and New Jersey.
Wildstein, who has resigned from the authority along with Baroni in the wake of the outrage surrounding bridge-gate scandal, put an end to the practice of allowing former Port Authority commissioners to have free tolls for life.
Although the Times called Wildstein "Christie’s enforcer," the governor has categorically denied any previous knowledge of the lane closings, which resulted in Christie losing his status as the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.
The newspaper also claimed that Christie’s administration recommended dozens of people with relationships to the governor or his team for jobs at the agency, including a gourmet food broker who was given a job as an analyst, and the co-author of Baroni’s self-help book "Fat Kid Got Fit: And So Can You!" who was handed a part-time job as publications editor.
After he was first elected, Christie found that the Transportation Trust Fund, usually financed by the gas tax, was almost empty.
But during his campaign he’d vowed not to raise taxes, so instead he canceled a major Port Authority project involving the construction of a railroad tunnel under the Hudson River to alleviate congestion for Amtrak and New Jersey trains. He used the $1.8 billion in savings to fill the trust fund coffers.