Pat Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said the bidding process on two of the transportation agency’s major bridge projects wasn’t tainted by conflict of interest.
Federal prosecutors in New Jersey subpoenaed Port Authority’s records related to Chairman David Samson and $2.8 billion in construction contracts for the Goethals and Bayonne bridges, the New York Times reported March 18. Samson, appointed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, voted to award contracts to companies with some connection to his law firm, Wolff & Samson PC, according to the newspaper.
“The procurements at both Goethals and Bayonne were honest, competitive,” Foye, an appointee of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said yesterday at a news briefing following a board meeting in Jersey City. “I have no reason to believe they were compromised.”
The Port Authority is replacing the 85-year-old Goethals Bridge, connecting New York’s Staten Island to Elizabeth, New Jersey, and raising the roadway of the Bayonne Bridge, between Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey, to make room for bigger ships to pass beneath.
Samson has faced scrutiny after an ally of Christie last year closed lanes at the George Washington Bridge, clogging traffic in Fort Lee, whose Democratic mayor failed to endorse the governor for re-election. Samson also has been the subject of reports in the Times, the Star-Ledger of Newark and other newspapers about Port Authority votes on projects with ties to his firm.
Samson, formerly New Jersey’s attorney general, supported a plan for the Port Authority to assume some functions at the South Jersey Transportation Authority’s Atlantic City International Airport. Wolff & Samson serves as bond counsel to the transportation agency. Samson recused himself from voting.
Federal prosecutors in a separate matter have interviewed Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat, who said Christie’s administration threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid if she didn’t back a redevelopment project involving Wolff & Samson. The firm, based in West Orange, New Jersey, represented a developer seeking to build an office tower in Hoboken.
Samson’s attorney, Michael Chertoff, of the Washington, D.C.-based firm Covington & Burling LLP, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment in a telephone message left after regular business hours. Chertoff is a former director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and was U.S. attorney for New Jersey.
Before yesterday’s board meeting, an oversight committee formed by the Port Authority following the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal said it would create a panel made up of former Port Authority chairmen, executive directors and academics to give advice on how to improve the agency.
“We want to have the unvarnished views of people who have experience with the port,” said Port Authority Vice Chairman Scott Rechler, a Cuomo appointee. “We’re asking for ideas, we’re not hiring them to make policy.”
The panel would include former Port Authority Chairman Tony Coscia and former executive directors Stephen Berger and Tony Shorris. Shorris is first deputy mayor in New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration.
Another member would be Jameson Doig, author of “Empire on the Hudson,” a 2002 history of the Port Authority, who is a professor of government at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
The panel must be “completely impartial,” Samson said.