Sen. Weinberg downplays Murphy administration ‘overreach’ at Port Authority

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

After the Bridgegate conspiracy trial, no one replaced Bill Baroni as Port Authority Deputy Executive Director. The former Chris Christie staffer’s scheduled to be sentenced later this month for his role in the scandal. But political turmoil apparently continued to roil the bi-state agency under the new Murphy administration.

A letter from Port Authority Board Chairman Kevin O’Toole, obtained by NJ Advance Media, described “a troubling trend of an overreach by senior staff of the Murphy team,” saying it “wanted to be in control or ‘in charge’ of every senior hire at the Port.”

O’Toole wrote that Murphy’s chief counsel Matt Platkin offered to trade a favor “if Gov. Murphy would be allowed to hand-select the Port’s Deputy Executive Director — a position that was abandoned several years ago.”

It’s actually the same job Baroni once held. And it won’t be refilled, Sen. Loretta Weinberg told NJTV News“no, we were not reinstating that position.”

Weinberg co-chaired the legislative committee that investigated Bridgegate. She, along with Sen. President Steve Sweeney, received that letter back in July from O’Toole, who, ironically, is a Christie appointee.

She recalled O’Toole’s concern about ham-handed political tactics by Murphy’s senior staff.

“They were hardly senior in terms of their experience with state government,” said Weinberg. “I think if there was an overreach, that hopefully everybody now understands that they maybe had not mastered good communication skills between the governor’s office and an independent authority. My general impression is that things had improved there.”

Weinberg said she met with O’Toole several times since receiving the letter. Neither he nor Sweeney had any comment today. But Weinberg acknowledged Murphy felt deeply frustrated by his inability to get his people hired at one of the premier authorities for political power and influence.

On Wednesday, Murphy was resolutely unapologetic.

“It is not only my right, it is my responsibility and my obligation to make sure that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey punches at its weight, and in my case, on behalf of all the commuters who pay a lot of money to cross bridges and tunnels, and I will continue to do so.”

She said she’s working with the governor’s office on filling three openings for Port Authority commissioners. One nominee is Amy Rosen. Weinberg felt optimistic, even though Sweeney has so far sat on several of Murphy’s nominations that require Senate confirmation, as the two men clashed over issues like budget and taxes.

“The governor’s got a new chief of staff, that there’s going to be a willingness to sit down and talk about some of these things. The problem has been lack of communication, and I’m hopeful and optimistic that that’s going to change,” said Weinberg. “And hopefully along with our Senate leadership, we and the governor’s office, we’re going to reach an agreement on filling those openings.”

The state Senate meanwhile has already passed Weinberg’s proposal to reform the Port and enhance legislative oversight. She’s now working to merge her bill with a New York measure to guarantee the bi-state approval it requires.