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Police Union Implicated in Bridgegate Owed Hundreds of Jobs to Christie

Governor boasted of saving jobs at Freedom Tower and airports for Port Authority police, who told stalled motorists on GWB to call Fort Lee mayor

Nunziato and Christie
Paul Nunziato, president of the Port Authority police union, endorsing Christie in 2013.

Gov. Chris Christie won the loyalty of the Port Authority police union whose actions are under investigation in Bridgegate by guaranteeing that its rank-and-file would be in charge of security at the new Freedom Tower and by pushing a Port Authority police expansion that added hundreds of union jobs and dues-paying members.

Now the police union and its leaders are under investigation by both the Legislature and the Port Authority for enforcing the George Washington Bridge lane closures, telling disgruntled motorists to call Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich to make sure he knew the lane closures were aimed at him, and backing up the Christie administration’s cover story that the closures were part of a legitimate traffic study.

The police union’s enthusiastic role in the Bridgegate lane closures -- which were ordered by Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly in apparent political retaliation against Sokolich for not endorsing Christie for reelection -- came nearly eight months after the Republican governor won the endorsement of the Port Authority Patromen's Benevolent Association President Paul Nunziato and his then-1,300 member union.

The Port Authority union’s loyalty to Christie is easy to understand, said Martin Robins, director emeritus of Rutgers University’s Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center: “The union had a very focused interest in this: jobs and dues. And that’s what Christie gave them.”

The Port Authority police force, most of whom are represented by Nunziato’s union, increased in size from 1,500 when Christie took office to 1,700 when Nunziato’s union endorsed him last January and will go up to 2,000 by the end of this year.

Nunziato publicly praised Port Authority Chairman David Samson, Christie’s highest-ranking appointee at the bistate agency, for providing critical support for the police department expansion at a promotions ceremony in Jersey City on October 8, just a month after the Bridgegate lane closures.

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Nunziato failed to respond Sunday night and yesterday to a series of -mailed questions about the Christie endorsement, his union’s role in Bridgegate, and Port Authority staffing issues. Robert Egbert, the Port Authority PBA’s public relations officer, and other officials were unavailable for comment at the PBA offices yesterday. “It’s a police holiday,” the PBA official answering the phone explained.

Robins noted that “it costs a lot to add 300 to 500 jobs. The more money you spend on operating expenses, the less you can spend on new projects. And these are not inexpensive jobs. The average Port Authority police officer makes north of $100,000.”

The Citizens Budget Commission, a New York City watchdog group, reported 14 months ago that average salaries for Port Authority rank-and-file police officers hit $108,157 in their sixth year and rise to $117,884 in their 25th year, not including ample overtime, pensions, and health benefits. Port Authority police, unlike their counterparts in New Jersey, do not contribute to their health insurance costs, the CBC report noted, and the cost of benefits adds 50 percent to base salaries.

The most senior Port Authority police earned average pay of $83.99 an hour -- 57 percent more than the $53.36 average hourly wage of the New Jersey State Police officer and 43 percent more than the $58.86 earned by New York City’s police.

It was Christie who guaranteed that the higher-paid Port Authority police, not New York City police, would patrol the new Freedom Tower a cost that is ultimately borne by tollpayers on the GWB, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the Bayonne and Goethals bridges and the Outerbridge crossing; by travelers at the Port Authority’s three airports; and by shippers, and ultimately consumers, using the Port of New York and New Jersey.

That’s what Christie told Nunziato and his union when he spoke to hundreds of Port Authority police jammed into a ballroom at the Newark Airport Hilton to give him their endorsement on January 22, 2013, more than nine months before the election.

“As I stand here this morning, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Given all I’ve learned over the years, all the ways that we’ve worked together, never, not ever on my watch, will there be any other police force who will patrol the new World Trade Center other than the Port Authority police,” Christie vowed.

Christie’s veto authority over Port Authority decisions gave him the power to keep his promise to unilaterally block efforts to allow the New York City Police Department patrol the new Freedom Tower, ending what Nunziato said had been a “looming issue” since 2008.

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