By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Calling it a low point in Port Authority history, the agency’s executive director, testifying under subpoena, told the Assembly Transportation Committee how he didn’t learn until that Friday of a week-long lane experiment that snarled traffic at the George Washington Bridge last September and that he immediately sent out an e-mail stopping it.
“There is no question — and I knew before I sent my e-mail on Friday Sept. 13 at 7:44 a.m. if I have that right– that David Wildstein was the culprit if that’s the right word and nothing I’ve learned since changes that conclusion,” said Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye.
Wildstein is a longtime Republican operative who became the number two New Jersey official at the Port Authority under Chris Christie.
He resigned last Friday, after speculation that the lane closures were political payback against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee refused to go away.
The Port Authority’s director of bridges and tunnels said Wildstein called him on a Friday to order the experiment begin on Monday.
“My exact words were, ‘This will not end well,” said Port Authority Director of Bridges and Tunnels Cedric Fulton, “because of traffic.”
Two weeks ago, the number one New Jersey official at the PA, Bill Baroni, told the committee the lanes were re-configured as part of a traffic study.
Director Foye said that was news to him and it violated agency procedures.
“I wasn’t told. Had I been told earlier, I would have stopped it earlier,” Foye said.
But while blaming the whole episode on Wildstein, Foye refused to implicate Baroni, despite the attempts of committee Democrats.
“Is it possible that Mr. Baroni directed Mr. Wildstein to do these closures?” asked Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, to which Foye replied, “I can’t speculate on that.”
The general manager of the George Washington Bridge was asked why he obeyed an order from Wildstein he knew to be faulty.
“Mr. Chairman, it is a well known fact that Mr. Wildstein is one of the ranking New Jersey officials in the Port Authority,” Bridge Manager Robert Durando said.
Committee Chairman John Wisniewski asked tough questions in a five-hour hearing and said Foye should have fired Wildstein weeks ago.
“Why continue to pay somebody who clearly can’t be entrusted with authority and clearly exercised the authority he had incorrectly?” asked Wisniewski.
Wizniewski said he might just subpoena Wildstein and Baroni next.