Ward Boss: He Resurrected Ground Zero, But Can Chris Ward Save Himself?

ground zero may 2008

Wardtopia, June 2011. (Port Authority)


When Chris Ward arrived at the Port Authority in May 2008, he had a single mandate from Governor Paterson: Fix the World Trade Center. Sure, he would be responsible for the airports and the ports and the bridges and tunnels. But the governor and his appointee knew that the biggest problem facing the agency, and in some ways the entire state, was the lack of progress at what was then still a pit. “We pulled the whole project apart and basically started from scratch,” Mr. Ward said.

“Everything does not have to get built at the same way at the same time,”he continued. “You set a goal and let the engineers work around that. Once they know what they are working towards, they can figure it out.”

Mr. Ward credits this approach with moving the project ahead of schedule in a number of ways. The memorial pavilion is now fully clad in glass, creating a far more inviting structure than the bare steel skeleton that was initially set out in the plans; previously the cladding would have come some time after the 10th anniversary. The Vehicle Screening Center, the security and circulatory system for the entire 16-acre site, which Mr. Ward calls “our new memorial” in terms of priorities and deadlines, is also three months ahead of schedule, and he hopes to add another three to six months to that.

Though he had been passed over by Governor Eliot Spitzer, Mr. Ward came to the Port Authority job with a reputation as something of an expert in navigating thorny public projects. In the 1980’s, he worked on energy projects for the Public Development Corporation. “One of Chris’s great strengths is knowing when to close a deal, when to not close a deal and the implications of a deal, especially in a complex, multilayered urban environment like New York,” said Carl Weisbrod, the founding president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

Mr. Weisbrod had hired Mr. Ward from PDC to handle the ports and airports on behalf of the city, and he points to his shrewdness in holding onto a lease renewal at LaGuardia. The Dinkins administration wanted it finished before the end of its term, but Mr. Ward convinced City Hall it was not finished and rushing would have negative consequences. “This was an area Chris did not know a lot about, either,” Mr. Weisbrod said. “He’s a very quick learner.”

The same could be said for his political skills. During his first stint at the Port Authority, when he served as chief of planning and external affairs from 1997 to 2002, Mr. Ward tackled the AirTrain, a longtime pipe dream without much popular support. “It was a very complex issue, lots of NIMBY politics around it and a swirling vortex of intrigue behind it—you know, the airlines opposing it and the FAA not entirely behind it, and the business community came out against it because they thought no one would use it,” said Bob Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association. But Mr. Ward managed to sway seven community boards and dozens of politicians and business leaders, and as a result, J.F.K. air traffic has—for better or worse—risen 46 percent since the AirTrain opened.

That breadth appears to have helped Mr. Ward with the less public mandates of the Port Authority job.

Plans are in the works to revamp the loathsome Port Authority bus terminal, and Mr. Ward is even considering a freight tunnel under the Hudson—a pet project of Congressman Nadler. He has expanded shipping capacity and begun dredging the harbor to accommodate new, bigger ships. He has been working to modernize all three airports with new terminals.

“I would say he’s probably the most effective director of aviation I’ve dealt with, and the most effective person over the Port Authority I’ve dealt with in recent memory,” Richard Anderson, the C.E.O. of Delta Air Lines, told The Observer. He praised Mr. Ward for realizing a $1.3 billion consolidation and expansion of Delta’s terminals at J.F.K. last year after two decades of false starts.

“Once the goal is set, he has great focus and is great at getting it done,” Mr. Anderson said.


  1. Guest says:

    No good deed goes unpunished, and in our pathetic political era, no effective manager lasts long. 

    Ward’s problem is his competence.   Cuomo and Christie want the Port Authority head to be a pliant hack. 

    They want to be able to raid the Port Authority’s finances to pay for other projects.  NY governors have done this to the MTA, robbing dedicated transit funds to plug State budget caps. 

  2. Anonymous says:

    You got the name backwards: It’s
    not Ward Boss — it’s Boss Ward and the article couldn’t be more glowing if he
    had written it himself.


    Five years ago, an Alicia Colon
    column on the efforts of The Twin Towers Alliance appeared in the New York Sun and
    concluded: “So far, the will of the people hasn’t amounted to much in this
    city — but there’s always a first time.”


    The main reason that what most of
    us wanted and still do — new state-of-the-art Twin Towers instead of a
    deformed skyline — is squarely the result of journalistic malpractice.


    The enormity of officials’
    miscarriage of justice and the media’s miscarriage of judgment would become
    painfully clear, if it were possible to put on 3-D glasses and see what would
    be standing there now — for far less than the Mutt and Jeff towers and Twin
    Stumps will cost the public — if only the will of the people had been respected instead of rejected.  


    Far from there having been
    difficulty in achieving a consensus following the attacks, there was a powerful
    consensus across all demographics, including Metro New Yorkers, downtown
    residents, first responders, 9/11 Families, 9/11 survivors, and a majority of
    citizens across the country (not to mention, support from around the world) for
    defying the gravity of 9/11 by repairing what could be repaired. 


    That was the organic, intuitive
    response that would have brought healing to the world’s shell-shocked
    psyche.  It had the added credential of
    being the Israelis’ standard counter-terrorism response to attacks — encourage the people by nullifying
    the visible evidence and take away the terrorists’ bragging rights as soon as humanly possible.


    In July, 2002, while we were still suffering
    from the concussion of the attacks, the New York Post did a poll and declared
    that “Half of New York Wants the Twin Towers Back.”  By 2009, 90% of respondents in a national
    MSNBC poll voted to switch from the Freedom Tower plan to the elegant, fully
    designed “Twin Towers II.” Who reported that?


    The only lack of consensus was within
    a powerful, well-financed minority that wanted to control the future of the
    site, even though they had no more or less right to the public property than anyone else. What gave them the overwhlming advantage is that the media ate out of their hands.
    But the
    twisted, byzantine process that was devised to defeat what the people wanted,
    replace it with what they did not want, and make them pay for it, backfired and
    progress was non-existent until a man who had demonstrated how conniving and effective
    he could be at the Croton Water Filtration Plant was put in charge — and promptly
    put the site on steroids.


    Is there a column in the Observer’s
    archives — or anywhere else — on the DOI’s investigation into Bronx Assemblyman
    Dinowtz’s charges of dishonesty and misconduct by Christopher Ward’s Department of Environmental Protection at the  Croton Water Filtration Plant? There is not, because there was no
    investigation. You won’t find a single inquiry into why the detailed, 67-page
    report filed in 2007 was quashed — even though it was co-signed by, among
    others, current Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.


    But it was probably the hardball
    tactics employed be DEP Director Ward in forcing the filtration plant into the Bronx
    instead of the far less costly, more feasible, Westchester location that was
    his ticket into the Port Authority – where might has definitely overcome


    We at the Twin Towers Alliance have documented
    his lies and distortions and have never been challenged because our charges are true. So now that the public has been raped in the Bronx
    and raped at Ground Zero you seem to think he deserves to be Executive-Director-for-Life, when
    what would really be fitting is an investigation into his record and methods, resulting in
    his dismissal with the forfeiture of his pension — or worse.


    It would be hard to overstate how
    ineptly this has been handled. It’s the too-big-to-fail swindle all over again.
    It would have been far less expensive to have built new Twin Towers and let them
    stand empty for all these years. At least we could have lit them every night to
    restore the nation’s confidence. 

    still might be all it takes to turn our nationwide losing streak around.  The only reason the World Trade
    Center looks the way it does today is because officials have foisted a plan on
    the public through deceit that the people would never have accepted and paid for if informed.

    It would be hard to exaggerate how
    misinformed the public, and many journalists, are about what really has taken
    place at the site. There has been a gross abuse of power. It is impossible to subvert the will of the people and at
    the same time uphold the Constitution.   
    And it is impossible to wink at
    officials’ abuse of power and retain control of our democracy. If all officials
    have to do is trick us into letting them have their way, we are cooked. That’s
    why we keep on bearing a burden that the media by rights should be bearing. We
    are asking the questions they owe it to the people to ask.

    It would be hard to exaggerate how
    misinformed the public, and many journalists, are about what really has taken
    place at the site. There has been a gross abuse of power. It is impossible to subvert the will of the people and at
    the same time uphold the Constitution.   
    And it is impossible to wink at
    officials’ abuse of power and retain control of our democracy. If all officials
    have to do is trick us into letting them have their way, we are cooked. That’s
    why we keep on bearing a burden that the media by rights should be bearing. We
    are asking the questions they owe it to the people to ask.


    The way our dozens of Freedom of
    Information requests have been mishandled over the past year suggests that
    officials think they have nothing to worry about — but we think they will
    discover that they are wrong about that — especially Boss Ward.  When Governor Cuomo and Governor Christie examine
    the record we can expect a correction because they are both leaders.

    The public doesn’t need the media’s advocacy — just its honesty in supplying the facts that the people have been denied for ten years. It would upset Michael “My Way or the Highway Bloomberg” and Howard “Strategic Communications” Rubenstein, but it would win someone a Pulitzer Prize. By the way, how could you really
    think that Austin Tobin is smiling down on the man who had it in his power to
    reclaim Tobin’s greatest legacy and trashed it instead? When we sat in his
    office in September, 2008, we told him of a plan that would be almost finished
    by now if he had done a feasibility study instead of burying it.


    If there was nothing to our claims,
    they would have been discredited.  But he
    was afraid to establish that the safest, greenest, towers with the fastest
    elevators and tallest spire could have taken the form of 21st-century Twin
    Towers for less public expense than the current, dismal plan.


    It was not in his job description
    to ignore a fully designed plan that was far more popular than the official
    plan and that promised to save billions of dollars and years of time. The only
    responsible way to handle it was a cost/benefit analysis that would have
    determined the best use of the public’s funds.

    Austin Tobin’s was known for the motto: “Dream no
    small dreams for they have no power to stir the blood of men.” But we are
    paying for Ward’s, and Pataki’s, and Bloomberg’s, and Silverstein’s puny dreams instead.
    Thanks for nothing…

  3. Jgcitygin says:

    That’s like our Lord coming back with His head placed backwards and missing His arms.

    What is this? A cynical concept from the media? Feed the people —- and they’ll swallow it?
    Not this New Yorker! This whole plan is a hideous, arrogant stench-ridden abomination, from the two abysmal voids to the lack of Twin Towers.

  4. guest says:

    Hi Matt

    AC is exactly right to get rid of Ward.  The WTC is BILLIONS over even the $9 billion that Ward included in his whitewash report from a few years ago.  (Reporters- check for numbers and ask hard questions.  All of the projects are way over budget.  The Freedom Tower, the Hub, the Memorial, the Vehicle Screening Center.  All of them.  If someone gave me $4 billion extra to build the WTC I could do it too.  And the Hub meanwhile is many years behind schedule.  We’ll be lucky to see it done by 2016.  Why does Chris Ward get away with it?  For one thing the NYO publishes articles more suited to People magazine instead of doing actual investigative reporting.  For another if anyone dares question Ward or his minions he throws a hissy fit, calls people names and trashes them in public.  Boss Ward indeed.

    Ward hasn’t just spent NY’s money  He’s given away the rest of the Port Authority’s money to Chris Christie for road projects and budget stuffers that have nothing to do with the Port Authority.  The New Jersey team at the PANYNJ are cleaning up the floor with money and staff because all Ward cares about is being able to stick around long enough to say he rescued the WTC.  So what does Governor Cuomo do with this self-glorifying idiot who’s treating the WTC as his own vanity project.  He keeps Ward around until the anniversary and ditches him afterwards  Smart move Gov.