Christie Chooses Democrat to be Next Port Authority Chairman

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

In choosing John Degnan to be the next chairman of the Port Authority, Gov. Chris Christie has reached out to a Democrat with a sterling reputation.

“At a time when there are significant challenges at the Port Authority, both to it’s mission and to the purpose that it serves for the people of the region, I wanted someone with unquestioned credentials. Both politically from a partisan perspective and from most importantly the issue of integrity,” Christie said.

Degnan was chief counsel to Gov. Brendan Byrne in the mid-1970s, then state attorney general, then a candidate for governor in 1981, and in 1990 joined Chubb Insurance Company.

“I’ll come to the job without any preconceived ideas. Much as been written about what is needed at the Port Authority and much of it sounds reasonable. But that is from the outside looking in and all I can honestly say right now is that I am open to the best ideas we have,” Degnan said.

In a half-hour exchange with reporters, Christie talked about the George Washington Bridge lane controversy, about Port Authority reform and about a new sharp decline in state revenues.

Asked if the legislative committee investigating the bridge scandal can operate impartially given the Democratic credentials of its co-chairs, he said, “I think you should judge people by how they conduct themselves, and everyone has the right to their own opinion and to make their judgements on that. I think you have to judge them by the statements they make and how they conduct themselves. Everybody will make that judgement on their own. For me, I’ll keep my opinion to myself.”

As for the Port Authority, he seemed less taken with the idea of splitting it in half between New York and New Jersey than he did a month ago.

“There’s lots of things that need to be examined, that’s one of the ideas that came out of the Maestro report. It’s Certainly something that needs to be considered but it’s just one of a number of ideas that we’ll consider and Gov. Cuomo and I will work together moving forward to try to be the folks who work with everybody to try get reform that’s necessary at the Port Authority,” said Christie.

The Treasury Department announced yesterday that revenues for April are running $600 million under projection for the month, setting up a difficult round of budget-cutting for this year’s spending plan and next.

“I just found out about it yesterday at noon and I think what you’ve seen is that there’s a number of states, both in the region, across the country who are dealing with the same exact problem. We’ve dealt with this before. We’re just going to have to dig in and deal with the problem and we’ll have a balanced budget and we’ll come forward in the next few weeks with a plan to do that. But certainly in the last 27 hours since I’ve found out about it, we have not come up with a complete plan to deal with it,” Christie said.

Degnan succeeds David Samson, who resigned last month. The appointment requires Senate confirmation.