NEWARK – The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is a bi-state agency dedicated to facilitating transportation between the two states, particularly across the Hudson River span. However, while the mission is to work together, Thursday testimony in the Bridgegate case suggests that employees from the two states have often butted heads over capital projects to be taken on by the agency.
On Thursday, John Ma, Chief of Staff to Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye, presented his testimony in the trial of former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly. During his statements, Ma said that the Port Authority was often divided between the “New York side” and the “New Jersey side.”
Attorney for the defense Michael Baldassare asked Ma if part of that dysfunction stemmed from diverging notions on various Port Authority capital projects. Baldassare asked if the agency diverged on projects like the redevelopment of Red Hook in Brooklyn because New Jersey wanted funding to instead go to the PATH train line. According to Baldassare, that divergence partially surfaced because New Jersey officials felt New York had had disproportionate investment from the Port Authority due to the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site compared with the investments New Jersey received. During Ma’s testimony, Baldassare read a portion of FBI testimony the chief of staff had given on the bridge closure matter where Ma called the relationship between New York and New Jersey Port Authority sides “horse trading.”
During Baldassarre’s questioning, he also asked Ma about the nature of the relationship between Foye and former Port Authority Chairman David Samson (who recently pleaded guilty for the “chairman’s flight” coerced United Airlines to charter between Newark and South Carolina in order to travel more easily to his home there). Baldassare’s questioning inquired about Samson’s use of Red Hook to “torture” the New York side of the Port Authority before he left the agency. Ma said he felt that the use of “torture” was too severe to describe Samson’s relationship to the New York side but he did say the relationship was not a good one.
Testimony has also regularly called into question the relationship of former Port Authority employee David Wildstein (a member of the New Jersey side and former Christie ally) and other Port employees. During his testimony on Thursday, Foye reiterated statements he made on Wednesday that Wildstein was “abusive and untrustworthy.” According to the previous FBI interview presented by Baldassare, Ma also one referred to Wildstein as “the enforcer.”
Ma’s testimony also revealed that he spoke off the record with Bergen Record columnist John Cichowski in September of 12—the last day of the bridge closings—in order to let him know that he was highly skeptical of the “traffic study” statement previously released by the Port Authority and to encourage him to “keep asking questions” to uncover what had happened at the George Washington Bridge. According to Ma, before calling the Record, he spoke with Foye about the impending phone call and they discussed naming Wildstein as the main culprit in the not-for-attribution conversation. Ma said he did not want his name tied to the story because he did not want to publicly contradict the earlier statement released by the Port Authority. During his Wednesday testimony, Foye admitted that the statement was false. Baldassare claimed that Ma went to the reporter because of the NY/NJ infighting at the Port Authority.
Ma did not agree with Baldassarre’s assertions that Foye waited until Friday Sept. 13, 2013 to remedy the lane closures because he wanted to look like a “hero.”
Following Ma’s testimony, Christina Lado, Director of New Jersey Government Community Relations for Port Authority took the stand. She said that Baroni’s lack of responsiveness during the lane closures to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich was out of character. She also said that she attempted to reach out to Baroni multiple times during the week of the closures as she had been hearing about the issue but that she got no response. Her testimony will continue on Friday.