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

chris ward ground zero june 2011 Ward Boss: He Resurrected Ground Zero, But Can Chris Ward Save Himself?[/caption]When The Observer asked how Mr. Ward manages all these disparate projects, even he struggled to explain it. “I feel like I’m being psycho-analyzed,” he said. 

“People always make a big deal about, oh, you went to Harvard Divinity School,” Mr. Ward said of his masters degree–earned after a stint on an oil rig. “All that means to me is an ability to bring interested, intellectual capacity to problem solving. And I guess maybe that’s what it is. People respond to my ability to create an analytical or intellectual framework to solve problems.”

Sometime he turns to more unorthodox methods.

Within weeks of taking over the Port three years ago, with years of warring factions and bureaucratic inertia set against him, Mr. Ward’s first order of business was creating a new timeline for ground zero. The fact that he would be pushing deadlines out and costs up made no one happy, and it cast the new executive director as a hardheaded sheriff—and a bit of an outlaw. The day before the agency was preparing to release its five-month-long status report, the details were leaked to The Journal.

There had been some debate about whether or not to release specific schedules and budgets, but according to a Port Authority official who was working on the report, Mr. Ward felt the need for some transparency. “He just thought the best thing to do was put those numbers out and then beat them,” this person said.

His courting of the press then and since has chafe at some of his subordinates. Reporters have been known to contact developers or brokers at the site for tours, and upon checking in with the Port’s press office for a simple comment, find themselves following in Mr. Ward’s booted footsteps across the site. A good number of agency staffers feel Mr. Ward was claiming too much of the spotlight, with a penchant to misrepresent facts at the site, but the feeling from the top is that a unified command is a stronger command. Whether or not the site would have right itself on its own, to say it has been turned around by the boss and his team makes for a better narrative.

“This is a media town, so that is another one of my constituencies,” Mr. Ward said.

“He’s a little bit of a crazy, off-the-wall cowboy,” the Port Authority official said. “He is one of those people who believes, what’s the saying? It’s better to apologize than ask permission.” Under Mr. Paterson—whom Mr. Ward calls the “unsung hero of the World Trade Center”—those maverick tendencies were largely tolerated. He even stood by him when the Port took a gamble on arbitration last year against Silverstein Properties, a move that caused many, including the mayor, to call for Mr. Ward’s resignation.

But it is unclear how well a cowboy might coexist with Mr. Cuomo, who tends to take a much more active role in his administration.