Time for David Samson to Go

It controls four bridges, two tunnels, five airports and the various port operations, commands an annual budget of more than $8.2 billion and a 10-year capital plan for almost $28 billion and hands out plenty of big money. According to a detailed account by Russ Buettner in The Times this week, Mr. Samson had no compunction about sending some of that money in the direction of Wolff & Samson and its clients, who seem to have grown fat on the Port Authority’s generosity.

The reporting included plenty of troubling examples. In one particularly spectacular conflict of interest, the Port Authority last April awarded two important bridge contracts worth a total of $2.8 billion. Both awardees were clients of Mr. Samson’s firm. He lobbied hard for the board to choose them — “like gangbusters,” one source said — and did not recuse himself from the discussions or the vote, and commented afterward that the occasion was “joyous and happy.”

While his clients and his firm would have been happy, the taxpaying public might have benefited from independent advice. The Port Authority also assumed control of the failing Atlantic City International Airport, which Mr. Samson championed at an authority meeting and in comments to the news media. The investment made little sense, coming at a time when the Port Authority’s other airports desperately needed support. But Mr. Samson’s law firm was once again involved, having served as bond counsel to the local transportation authority that was taking a beating on the unsuccessful Atlantic City facility.

The Times report also noted that the Port Authority’s considerable resources have been used to advance Mr. Christie’s own interests. In one instance, the authority paid for upgrades to the Pulaski Skyway that would normally have been paid for by the state. This allowed Mr. Christie to keep a campaign promise not to raise the state gas tax.

Underneath these and other seamy details lies a fundamental truth: the Port Authority needs fundamental reforms. And it should be run by professionals, not political hacks like the 50 or so political associates Mr. Christie has put into jobs at the authority. Mr. Christie owes it to the millions of people who use and pay for the Port Authority’s facilities to find professionals to do these jobs. And he can begin by telling Mr. Samson it is time to retire.

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