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Embattled Port Authority Still Fighting Toll Hike Lawsuit

The delay in the release and adoption of a new Port Authority capital plan -- which one source suggested would be done in the near future -- is not surprising in the wake of the Bridge-gate scandal hat has engulfed the agency and its top officials over the past several months.

David Wildstein, the high school friend whom Christie appointed as the Port Authority’s director of interstate transit projects, has been subpoenaed by Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) to testify under oath in Trenton Thursday on his controversial decision to close two lanes leading into the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee.

Wildstein’s decision, which he ordered kept secret both from Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye and Fort Lee’s mayor and police officials, snarled traffic in Fort Lee for four days in September. Wisniewski, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), and other officials have suggested that the closure was political retaliation against Fort Lee Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich for refusing to endorse Christie for reelection.

Sokolich and other Fort Lee officials repeatedly complained to Port Authority officials, including Bill Baroni, the Port Authority deputy executive director appointed by Christie, but it was not until Foye, a Cuomo appointee, finally heard about the closures that the lanes were reopened. The lane closures hampered Fort Lee police and emergency personnel, and Foye suggested that the closures may have constituted a criminal action.

Wildstein and Baroni, who served as Christie’s “eyes and ears” at the increasingly politicized Port Authority, resigned a week apart in December.

Christie said they were planning to resign away, but the governor’s repeated efforts to joke about the issue and dismiss the controversy as a partisan attack by Democrats on an “inconsequential” matter involving “the moving of a few cones” have failed to quell the furor.

With Christie serving as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and consistently leading the polls for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, the Democratic National Committee, liberal pundits, and newspapers running the gamut from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal have cited the Bridge-gate scandal as evidence that Christie is a political bully who retaliates against those who cross him.

That’s why Wildstein’s testimony Thursday will draw national attention.

"When not making traffic cone jokes and shrugging off the threats to public safety these lane closings created, Gov. Christie has made clear that this decision was largely the fault of Mr. Wildstein,” Wisniewski said in issuing the subpoena to Wildstein on New Year’s Eve. “So as we continue gathering information on this matter the time has come to hear directly from Mr. Wildstein."

“The public deserves answers as to how this decision was made, who was involved, and its true purpose,” said Wisniewski, who has suggested publicly that the directive to Wildstein to close the lanes may have come from outside the Port Authority. “I look forward to Mr. Wildstein providing insight into this decision that put public safety at risk and raised serious questions about this vital yet dysfunctional agency being used for political vengeance."

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