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Port Authority Scandal Is Result of Leadership, Patronage Mess, Analysts Say

“It has never been done without advance notification,” Gallagher said. “The Route 495 helix into the Lincoln Tunnel is a good example. When the helix project was first being talked about, Mr. Baroni and others went door-to-door in local communities notifying people about the noise from construction and the lane closures that would be coming. This is the only case I know of in which public notice was consciously restricted, and there was no good reason for it.”

The failure to notify Mayor Sokolich and the Fort Lee Police Department runs “completely contrary to the Port Authority’s traffic engineering ethos, which historically and traditionally pays an enormous amount of deference to making sure everyone in local government is fully briefed,” Robins said.

“(For Wildstein) to make Port Authority employees promise not to tell local officials makes it clear this was willful, malicious misdeed because there is no other reason to go forward without briefing local officials,” Robins added.

Doig, a professor at Princeton and Dartmouth universities who wrote "Empire on the Hudson: Entrepreneurial Vision and Political Power at the Port of New York Authority," shared Robins’ dismay at Wildstein’s assumption that he could unilaterally close traffic lanes and order his subordinates to conceal his actions from the agency’s executive director.

“This is what happens when you have Gov. Christie forcing more than 60 patronage people on the Port Authority, including this most infamous David Wildstein,” Doig said. “Ever since then, the Port Authority’s leadership has had to deal with the problem of uncertain competence, and the fact that these are the governor’s people and cannot be readily removed or given orders to.

“You saw that clearly in this situation where the executive director, Pat Foye, did not feel he could remove Wildstein even after what he did. The Port Authority is plagued by divided leadership, and we have a governor in New York (Cuomo) who doesn’t care very much about protecting the quality of management at the Port Authority or trying to block Christie from enacting his own plans,” Doig asserted.

Foye ordered the Fort Lee lanes reopened on September 13 after receiving Mayor Sokolich’s letter, but emails reportedly showed that Baroni interceded with Foye not to go public with his belief that Wildstein had acted improperly and possibly illegally. It was not until October 16, the day of the special U.S. Senate election won by Cory Booker, that the Port Authority announced it was convening an internal review of Wildstein’s action.

And it was not until last Monday -- a full month after Christie’s landslide reelection -- that Foye testified under subpoena before the Assembly Transportation Committee that the closures were improper, and that he knew of no traffic study, contrary to Baroni’s testimony two weeks earlier. Wildstein had already resigned three days before Foy’s testimony, and on Friday, Christie announced that Baroni had resigned too.

Christie spent more than an hour answering questions at a Statehouse press conference in an effort to put an end to what were now a barrage of negative stories. The governor acknowledged that “mistakes were made.” He denied Friday that he had called Cuomo to ask him to have Foye stop trying so hard to get to the bottom of the Bridge-gate scandal, but the Wall Street Journal was standing by its report of the phone call.

Christie is hoping that the Bridge-gate controversy will go away quickly now that both Wildstein and Baroni have resigned. But Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) said he was far from getting answers to his many questions about the Port Authority scandal, and his committee issued seven additional subpoenas for documents and communications last week.

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