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Analysis: Renna Testifies On Fear and Politics in Governor’s Office

Christie’s appointee as Port Authority Chairman, David Samson, has resigned, as have Baroni and Wildstein, Christie’s top two operational appointees at the Port Authority. Investigations into their activities and Port Authority mismanagement are being conducted not only by the Wisniewski-Weinberg committee, but also by the U.S. Attorney’s offices in New Jersey and in the Southern District of Manhattan, by the Port Authority Inspector-General’s Office, and by a U.S. Senate subcommittee.

Christie has a clear interest in getting out in front with a major initiative to reform the Port Authority: The Wisniewski-Weinberg committee is not only digging deep into Bridgegate, but also into the reasons for Christie’s cancellation of the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) rail passenger tunnel and into Wildstein’s secretive campaign to mislead the public about the massive 2011 toll hike that will ultimately raise tolls on the six trans-Hudson bridges and tunnels from $8 to $15.

But Cuomo is also taking questions about how he could let Christie’s New Jersey appointees at the Port Authority hide the GWB lane closures from his staff; about his complicity in misleading the public on the toll hikes; and about how he could allow Port Authority toll revenues to be diverted to rebuild the Pulaski Skyway -- even though it is not part of the port region’s road network.

Further, yesterday’s announcement follows just five weeks after Christie put out the word that he was intrigued by the idea of splitting the Port Authority and its revenues into two separate state agencies. That announcement was followed by Cuomo’s surprising declaration that he was willing to consider putting an end to the bistate agency too. The joint letter Christie and Cuomo sent to the commissioners of the Port Authority yesterday seemed at least in part to echo the same theme.

“As you know, the State of New York has expressed concerns going back to last year with the Port Authority’s development operations at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports,” the governors wrote. “New York State took the unprecedented step of seeking responsibility for development at these airports. These operational concerns are not isolated and a broad review of the Port’s operations must be addressed."

“In addition, recent events related to the George Washington Bridge have raised questions regarding management and governance that must be analyzed and addressed. The accompanying legal issues must be analyzed concerning the laws of both States, as well as federal legislation and the laws governing the financial structure of the Port,” the letter said.

The Christie-Cuomo joint announcement creates a new committee that will supersede the Port Authority committee co-chaired by Port Authority Commissioner Richard Bagger, who served as Christie’s chief of staff during his first two years in office, and Port Authority Vice Chair Scott Rechler, a New York appointee.

The new panel will include both Bagger and Rechler, plus former New Jersey Attorney General John Degnan, whom Christie just nominated to replace Samson as chairman, and a second New York commissioner.

Most significantly, the two remaining members are Christopher Porrino, Christie’s chief counsel, and Mylan Denerstein, Cuomo’s chief counsel, which gives the two governors even more input into plans to break up or overhaul a Port Authority that transportation experts say has been undermined by too little professional independence and too much interference by the states’ governors.

While transportation policy experts recommended that a blue-ribbon panel made up primarily of transportation professionals and advocates be convened to spend as much time as is needed putting together a comprehensive plan for the future of the agency, the six-member panel named by Christie and Cuomo does not include a single transportation policy expert, and the committee has just two months to submit written recommendations for change.

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