- Served as agency's top executive during bridge scandal
- Foye to remain on the job for the next 120 days in transition
Patrick Foye, who served as executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as the agency was rocked by a scandal involving lane closings at the George Washington Bridge ordered by allies of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is resigning.
Foye, who was appointed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2011, has said he learned of the September 2013 lane closings four days after they began. He famously wrote a blistering e-mail saying he would get to the bottom of it.
“I thank Governor Cuomo and Governor Christie for the opportunity to serve the people of our region at the most important transportation agency in the nation,” Foye wrote in an e-mail to employees Thursday that was obtained by Bloomberg News. “It has been my honor to serve alongside each of you.”
The agency that operates New York City’s three major airports, Hudson River crossings and marine terminals as well as its bus station and the World Trade Center site is in the midst of a search for a new chief executive, who would replace the agency’s executive director and deputy executive director who were traditionally hired by political appointment.
Foye asked that his name be withdrawn from the running for chief executive and said he wouldn’t participate in the search. He wrote that he will remain at the agency for the next 120 days to transition to new leadership.
In May, former Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni and former Christie aide Bridget Kelly were indicted for snarling traffic leading onto the George Washington Bridge in 2013 to punish a New Jersey mayor who didn’t back Christie’s re-election. David Wildstein, a former Christie ally at the agency, pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme. Baroni and Kelly are fighting the charges.
Foye, who reacted with outrage when he found out about the bridge closure, suggesting it may have been illegal, “gained some enmity” in Christie’s circle, said Jameson Doig, a professor emeritus at Princeton University and author of “Empire on the Hudson,” a history of the agency.
Foye also said the Port Authority’s former chairman David Samson, who was appointed by Christie, lacked the moral authority to run the agency. Samson eventually resigned. Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Samson got United Airlines to restart a money-losing route to his wife’s weekend home in South Carolina in exchange for political favors.
“Christie and his team never forget a possible slight,” Doig said. “The fact that Pat acted responsibly, one could even say courageously, on the Bridgegate case was from the point of view of Christie and his aides a negative factor and I think made it more difficult for Pat to continue.”
An email and phone message left with Christie’s office weren’t immediately returned.
“No one in the Christie administration, either the governor or anybody working for him has told me that Pat Foye is not an acceptable candidate,” said Port Authority Chairman John Degnan, a Christie appointee. “No one has suggest to me that Pat couldn’t result as the final.”
Last week, a court filing by attorneys for Baroni disclosed emails between Cuomo appointee at the agency, Vice Chairman Scott Rechler, and his aide suggesting that Foye write a detailed memo to Cuomo on the closure on his home computer and a general one memo in case the agency was subpoenaed. Foye said he didn’t know anything about the two-memo proposal. They were never prepared or sent, he said.
Even as the Port Authority was dealing with the fallout from bridge scandal, Foye helped refocus the agency on its core transportation mission as the 14-year World Trade Center rebuilding project wound down. The agency started a $4 billion renovation of LaGuardia Airport and is rebuilding the Goethals Bridge and raising the Bayonne Bridge to accommodate bigger cargo ships.
Earlier this month Christie and Cuomo announced an agreement with the federal government to fund two new tunnels under the Hudson River. The Port Authority will help to staff a new agency that oversees the $20 billion project.
The search for a new CEO will be extended and broadened in light of the Port Authority’s new role on the Hudson River tunnel project, known as Gateway, as well as the LaGuardia airport project and planning for a new bus terminal, the Port Authority said. Agency officials interviewed eight to 12 candidates, but weren’t satisfied with the choices, Degnan said.
“He was able to move the Port Authority’s staff in a positive direction and did that against the great problems of lack of effective leadership from either governor,” Doig said. “I’m sorry that he won’t continue because there’s a great advantage in having the same person in office for a period of years, but I think the commissioners are working hard to get a successor who will be as good as Pat.”