Most of the lawmakers who were there when the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal was sucking all the oxygen out of the state would just as soon forget those days. While several lawmakers have been trying to revive a Port Authority reform bill, Gov. Phil Murphy confirmed that he is considering reinstating the position of deputy executive director at the Port Authority. The position has been vacant since the agency began to try to reform itself in the wake of the scandal. You may remember the most notorious occupant of that position, Bill Baroni, the Chris Christie appointee, who, along with his subordinate and fellow Christie appointee, David Wildstein, concocted a plan to close lanes at the George Washington Bridge as an act of political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee.
“I wasn’t there in 2013; I’m here in 2018,” said Murphy, defending the move this week after reporters asked about it, insisting it’s a good idea. “We think there’s an enormous amount of opportunity to get one plus one equals three results. We can do well for both sides of the Hudson. Each of us can be better, and to the extent that New Jersey’s got a full compliment working with our New York friends, the better the result will be.”
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who co-chaired the so-called Bridgegate Committee, says she was not consulted on the governor’s recent decision. She says she’s still focusing on reform at the Port Authority.
“Well, I think the recreation of the deputy executive director position is not designed to help that process continue,” she said.
Weinberg says she’s proposing amendments to the current Port Authority reform bill, which would create two liaison positions, unpaid, and with no authority, who would monitor all of the agency’s planning and policy implementation. She says a return to the Christie-era structure would be a bad move.
“This position was eliminated, and it was eliminated for good reason,” she said. “It set up almost two parallel governing bodies at the Port Authority — New Jersey’s and New York’s. That’s what helped lead to it. Now, part of it was the inappropriate people who were there. Part of it was the “atmosphere” that that governor set that enabled them, or encouraged them, to do the kind of things they did. But the other part is we should not have two individual operating structures.”
Murphy, who insists the deputy executive director position still exists, got some support from another former Bridgegate Committee member from the other side of the aisle.
“Traditionally, the deputy executive director position was held by a person who had New Jersey’s interests first and foremost in his sights and that’s not a bad thing,” suggested Republican Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll. “We need the checks and balances that go along with having New Jersey’s interests forcefully represented at the highest levels of the Port Authority.”
Murphy says he hasn’t thought about who he’d appoint to the position, but with all the uncertainty surrounding the budget process, it struck some observers as odd that he would bring this up now and give opponents something else to criticize.