Furthermore, Christie made it clear that he would insist that Port Authority police patrol the perimeters of Newark, Kennedy, and LaGuardia airports, siding with Nunziato and his union against Port Authority professionals who had been seeking to fully replace foot patrols with sophisticated electronic monitoring technology they believed would be both more efficient and less costly.
“Three short years ago our agency was replacing boots on the ground with technology. We all know that technology can enhance law enforcement, but it cannot replace police officers,” Nunziato told NJTV.
“He stood shoulder to shoulder with me and my members on all our security issues. We think he’s a strong leader,” he said, explaining why his union broke its streak of electing three Democratic gubernatorial candidates in a row to back Christie.
The Port Authority police union’s backing was the second major labor endorsement Christie lined up as part of his campaign to convince national Republican leaders that he could pull in votes from organized labor and other traditional Democratic constituencies, such as African-Americans and Hispanics, if he ran for the White House in 2016. The first major union endorsement came the month before from the Laborers International Union of North America led by Ray Pocino, whom Christie had appointed to the boards of both the Port Authority and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.
The pledges to preserve Port Authority police jurisdiction over the new Freedom Tower and to maintain “boots on the ground” at the three airports increased the number of officers that would be needed as part of the reorganization plan being implemented by Joseph Dunne, the Port Authority’s chief security officer, which will add 10 new deputy chiefs and an array of other supervisory promotions.
The ceremony at which Nunziato praised Samson and Dunne was held to mark the promotions of 54 Port Authority police officers. In addition, 200 new Port Authority police cadets graduated in December and another 300 started their police academy training in January -- the two largest classes in the history of the force -- which is expected to push the ranks of the Port Authority Police Department over 2,100 before attrition reduces it to the preferred size of 2,000.
The involvement of the Port Authority police union in the lane closures has been an issue almost from the beginning, when reporters discovered that Sokolich, the Fort Lee mayor, had complained that Port Authority police were telling motorists that the lane closures were his fault.
But there is also a question about whether the Port Authority police union’s leaders played a role in the initial coverup of the reason for the lane closures, Robins, a former high-ranking New Jersey state transportation official, noted.
During hisbefore the Assembly Transportation Committee, Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, Christie’s top political lieutenant at the Port Authority, testified that Nunziato and PBA Treasurer Michael DeFillipis, whom Baroni identified as “the delegate that worked at the George Washington Bridge,” came up with the idea to test whether closing off two of three toll lanes heading into the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee would improve traffic flow from Route 80.
Nine days later,, telling reporters outside a Port Authority board meeting that he was the one who suggested the idea for the traffic study to Wildstein.
Speaking to reporters, Nunziato shrugged off complaints from Fort Lee officials that they had not been notified of the lane closures that would clog streets for four days in a town that already suffered from bridge traffic tie-ups, insisting that Port Authority police had not communicated with Fort Lee authorities in the 26 years he had been on the force.
He dismissed complaints by Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye that the unauthorized lane closures -- which Wildstein and Port Authority police had intentionally kept hidden from Foye for four days -- violated federal and state laws, characterizing Foye’s contention as “a load of garbage.” He ridiculed the idea that the lane closures were political retaliation aimed at Sokolich.
Nunziato concluded that the battle over the lane closures was just the latest chapter in a political rivalry between New Jersey and New York over control of the Port Authority – a contest he compared to the Sharks and the Jets in “West Side Story” -- and made it clear his loyalties lay with New Jersey.
If Baroni and Nunziato thought their assertions would put an end to the controversy over the lane closures, they were wrong: Just over a month after Nunziato’s impromptu press conference, their cover story that the lane closures were part of a legitimate traffic study suggested by the Port Authority exploded when Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly’s infamous August 13 “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email to Wildstein surfaced in the emails that Wildstein had turned over under subpoena to the Assembly Transportation Committee.
Further, Nunziato, who said he had spoken to Wildstein hundreds of times over the preceding several years, provided no documents or emails to back his story in his response to a subpoena from the same committee. In fact, Nunziato turned over no documents related to Bridgegate at all.