Do Gov. Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have too much power over the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – the bi-state agency involved in the George Washington Bridge controversy?
As experts discuss ways to depoliticize the agency, Christie, who approved the hiring of the former Port Authority official who oversaw the September lane closures at the bridge, cautioned against stripping too much appointment power from governors.
“We do need to remember that Gov. Cuomo and I are the only two people who are elected in either state who have authority over the Port Authority,” Christie said Monday night on NJ 101.5’s Ask the Governor, a call-in radio show. “I don’t know that people would want to go exclusively to an unelected group of people to be making these decisions regarding tens of billions of dollars. So I think we have to be careful about it.”
He defended the purpose of gubernatorial appointments, which “often get a bad name,” Christie said. At the agency, however, “there do need to be some people who are willing to implement the policies that we want to pursue.”
The Port Authority’s operations and structure have received heightened attention since the revelations that former agency official David Wildstein and now-fired Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly were involved in the lane closures, an apparent politically motivated scheme to jam traffic.
Wildstein resigned in December, along with Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee who had testified before a panel of state lawmakers that the lane closures were part of a traffic study.
David Samson, the chairman of the Port Authority board and a close ally of Christie’s, also resigned from the agency last month. In the wake of the bridge controversy, Samson had faced scrutiny over alleged conflicts of interest between his role as chairman and his law firm’s business deals.
The law firm Christie hired to review the lane closures recommended the creation of a bi-state commission to propose reforms at the Port Authority.
The firm, Gibson Dunn, said in a report that the agency’s appointment structure at times had led to “dysfunction.” The New Jersey governor appoints the board chairman and the deputy executive director, while the New York governor appoints the executive director and the deputy chairman.
Executive Director Patrick Foye, a Cuomo appointee, has said he had no knowledge of the lane closures ordered by Wildstein.
Christie – who said Monday that the Port Authority “was in much worse shape when I got there” – said he isn’t opposed to making changes. “I’ve been very clear about the fact that I think reform is needed,” he said on the radio show. “What I’m not going to do is respond to each idea that’s thrown out there individually.”
He also wasn’t about to weigh in on the possibility, raised by program host Eric Scott, that he would be called to testify before the legislative committee probing the lane closures. “I’m not going to talk about that,” Christie said. He said his office was complying with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is also investigating the incident.
Asked whether he personally had been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors, Christie said, “Absolutely not.”