Against backdrop of legislation, Lesniak’s dockfront war with commission intensifies

As state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) continues his legislative efforts to dismantle a flabbergasted Waterfront Commission, that entity’s executive director and general counsel locked horns hard with the senator today in response to a request by the senator for the pay stubs of former Acting Commissioner Barry Evenchick. 

After learning of a cop holding a parking spot for Evenchick for an hour, Lesniak publicly denounced him, then sought a more detailed accounting of all commission payments made to Evenchick between January 10, 2010 and the present.  

The commission brass objected to Lesniak’s focus, and says he should direct his ire at the docks – not the dock watchers.

“While the commission was corrupt, the senator advocated on its behalf. Yet now that it’s fulfilling its mission and is supported by the New York State Inspector General, he is seeking to have it abolished,” said Phoebe Sorial, general counsel for the commission.

The attorney referred to statements made last month by New York State Inspector General Joseph Fisch, who said the current leadership of the Waterfront Commission of New York has reformed the agency.

But citing Evenchick’s pay received before a senate signed off on then-Gov. Jon Corzine’s recommendation as a cause for concern, Lesniak said his bill wouldn’t abolish the commission, only force it to submit to the regulatory oversight of the Port Authority of New York an New Jersey. 

“I’m trying to get it to act like an adult,” the senator said of the commission. “They are afraid to be supervised by the Port Authority. That’s what they need – oversight; responsible oversight.” 

Two weeks and a day after Lesniak sent his request to the commission, Walter M. Arsenault, the commission’s executive director, fired back a Nov. 15th reply in which he reported that Evenchick received bi-weekly receipts based on his annual salary of $43,000, totaling $31,894.25 through October 2010.

Arsenault noted Evenchick’s “diligent service” to the commission before proceeding to redirect Lesniak’s attention to Ralph Gigante, the nephew of former Genovese boss Vincent “Chin” Gigante, who makes $400,000 per year as a shop steward at Port Newark Container Port, according to Arsenault.

“Though Mr. Gigante is only on the pier for approximately 30 hours a week, he is generally paid twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and even earns double time when he is asleep. He has no duties other than his role as a shop steward and, in that capacity, should be advising workers of their rights under the collective bargaining agreement and resolving or filing their grievances,” Arsenault writes.

“Notably, during his testimony before the commission three weeks ago, Mr. Gigante did not know that ‘CBA’ stands for ‘collective bargaining agreement,’ and testified that he has only filed one grievance in his entire 15-year career.”

Arsenault in his letter to Lesniak, which he CC’d to both Gov. Chris Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), said members of the Gigante family make almost $2 million a year at the port.

“We would be happy to provide you with additional information regarding their staggering salaries and limited job responsibilities, as well as those of other individuals at the port, upon your request,” Arsenault added.   

The senator said he hadn’t yet read the letter, but listened and responded.

“I don’t care if it was the pope who authorized it,” Lesniak said of the Evenchick appointment. “How does Corzine authorize to pay something when he wasn’t confirmed. The commission has to stop breaking the law them before they can go after other people. Gigante probably does more valuble serice than the executive director, based on what I see.

I want the staggering salaries at the commission to end. I do know he (Evenchick) was illegally being paid. This legislation is moving. It has the support of Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood), a former law enforcement official. The legislation provides oversight through the Port Authority.

“The commission’s a rogue agency.”

Sorial said the Corzine administration reached out to the commission, saying the recess appointment was valid.

“Since then we sent letters reminding the new administration that he (Evenchick) needs to be confirmed,” said the waterfront commission attorney.

But Christie told the commission he was moving in another direction and Evenchick stepped down last month when the Republican governor replaced him with Jan Gilhooley. 

“That money needs to be paid back,” Lesniak said of the salary in question, while Sorial said the senator’s charge of illegality in the case of Evenchick’s salary amounted to obfuscation of the issue.

Against backdrop of legislation, Lesniak’s dockfront war with commission intensifies