Conflict of Interest Concerns Surface with Port Authority

By David Cruz

At today’s special meeting of the NJ Transit board, there was no mention of the controversial deal with the Port Authority that gave NJ Transit a $1 a year lease on a Port Authority-owned Park & Ride in North Bergen. The 2012 vote would have gone unnoticed except that Port Authority Board Chairman David Samson voted for the deal, while NJ Transit was a client of his law firm Wolff & Samson. It’s the latest example of what some are calling an unchecked abuse of power.

“This is definitely an agency that at the top levels are out of control,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg, co-chair of the Select Committee on Investigation.

You can take your pick of potential Samson conflicts: There’s the $1.5 million his firm collected from NJ Transit for helping broker the parking lot deal. Or the $250 million makeover of the Harrison PATH station that potentially benefits a real estate developer represented by Samson’s firm. Or several other instances. Samson, though, is about to get a long hard look from the legislatures Select Committee on Investigation.

“My opinion is that we should review the documents that we have subpoenaed from him. We will determine as a committee of the whole if we will also subpoena him for testimony before the committee and I think once we have all of the information in front of us, that we then we will be able as a committee, as a whole to make a decision,” said committee member Sen. Nia Gill.

The Port Authority has been a reliable breadbasket stretching back to several governors. But experts say that whether it’s $3 million for street paving in Union City, or $260 million for a new PATH station, the Christie administration has taken that concept to another level.

Christie’s close ties to Mayor Brian Stack of Union City and the late Ray McDonough of Harrison came right before both cities got help from the governor, through the Port Authority, by way of Chairman Samson. Jameson Doig wrote a history of the Port Authority.

“I am surprised, you might say, impressed, in a negative way, by how close the ties have been and how valuable the Port Authority chairmanship seems to have been to Samson and his law firm,” said Doig, author of Empire on the Hudson.

A review by the Star-Ledger found that Wolff & Samson made more than $8 million from contracts with the state and other authorities, not to mention another million a year in lobbying business. It’s a lot of money that the former attorney general will now have to weigh against the cost all this scrutiny is having to his reputation.