- Steve Cohen, former Cuomo aide, selected to replace Rechler
- Rechler will remain on the bi-state agnecy board in transition
Scott Rechler, chief executive officer of RXR Realty LLC, is stepping down as vice chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey after almost five turbulent years as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s top appointee at the agency.
Rechler, 48, will be replaced by Steven M. Cohen, who formerly served as Cuomo’s senior-most adviser. Rechler will remain on the Port Authority board during a transition period. RXR is one of the biggest real estate companies in the New York metropolitan area, managing 87 commercial properties with a gross value of $12.7 billion.
“It’s been an interesting time period,” said Rechler, with understatement, during a board meeting in New York Thursday.
Rechler led the Port Authority for seven months following the Bridgegate scandal and the resignation of Chairman David Samson, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s top appointee at the agency. Bridgegate involved the closing of lanes at the George Washington Bridge to punish a New Jersey mayor who didn’t back Christie’s re-election.
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.
Rechler created a special oversight panel aimed at improving governance at the transportation agency. The authority adopted changes to its whistle-blower and ethics policies. In an attempt to insulate the agency from political interference, it abolished a tradition of having New Jersey’s governor appoint a deputy executive director.
Some of the panel’s recommendations haven’t been executed yet. The agency has been searching for more than a year for a new chief executive, who would be chosen by the board instead of the New York governor.
When Rechler was appointed vice chair in September 2011, the Port Authority didn’t have a “reliable” budget for the World Trade Center redevelopment project or a 10-year capital plan, Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, also a Cuomo appointee, said.
Rechler led an overhaul of the project which cut the cost by about $1 billion, Foye estimated. Rechler also led negotiations for the sale of the Port Authority’s retail space at the World Trade Center to Westfield Corp., generating $1.4 billion, Foye said.
“The agency’s on a good course right now,” said Rechler.
John Degnan, the current chairman of the Port Authority and Christie appointee, called Rechler’s service “superlative.”
At a news conference following the board meeting, Cohen said that board members had to be responsive to two governors while also maintaining independence.
“I’d be foolish to suggest that I don’t have a sense of what the New York governor views as his priorities,” Cohen said. “You’re also a fiduciary and you have an obligation to the people of the bi-state area, so I’d also be foolish to say that I’m mechanical, rigid and unduly responsive with respect to suggestions that are made from Albany.”