By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Jim Simpson agreed to talk to us at his home in Princeton about leaving his cabinet-level post as state transportation commissioner.
“It was the bat of an eye when the governor and I first talked about taking the job. We talked about two years and then we’ll both see how we fit. We fit very well, went on for four years. Last summer, I let it be known that I was going to leave at the end of the first term. I need to get back to the private sector,” Simpson said.
Simpson is returning to a business he owns, Victory Transportation Worldwide, a global shipping and storage company headquartered in Jamesburg.
After 9/11, he left it for the public sector, including a stint as George W. Bush’s federal transit administrator.
“I haven’t been back. So my business has changed. I’m still the only stockholder, so I need to go back there and re-inject some of my DNA because the dividend checks haven’t been doing like they used to,” said Simpson.
To co-workers and observers, Simpson is a whirlwind.
His admirers say it was his hands-on style that got New Jersey through some terrible winters.
They say that after three teenagers were hit by New Jersey Transit trains in one 24-hour period, he launched a meaningful safety initiative.
And that his decision to close the Pulaski Skyway for two years of repairs was brave.
Detractors still blame him for the governor’s controversial decision to kill the ARC Tunnel.
And some question the timing of his decision given the near-bankruptcy of the Transportation Trust Fund, the fiscal difficulty the state is in and the newness of the Skyway project.
“I say that’s just coincidental and I’m not going far. As I told the governor, that I would love to be an unpaid advisor to the governor on transportation matters. That I’m a phone call away. And with respect to the Transportation Trust Fund, the sky has been falling on the Transportation Trust Fund for the last probably 12 to 16 years,” Simpson said.
The Skyway project is one of the gleams in his eye.
“There was no bad news story on traffic and on a personal note, that was the most difficult decision I had to make to close that bridge and to put a traffic mitigation strategy plan in place because that was manufactured by people. It was a decision, it was a management decision, unlike Sandy, unlike Irene, unlike historic snow,” said Simpson.
His last day on the job will be Friday, June 6.