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

Everything the Port touches is my kingdom. (Daniel Neuner)

Once a week since 2002, an all-weather digital camera affixed to the top floor of the 41-story 1 World Financial Center has taken a snapshot of the World Trade Center site, capturing its progress from pit to office park. In Chris Ward’s office, on the 15th floor of 225 Park Avenue South, hangs one such photo from May 2008, when Mr. Ward was appointed by Governor David Paterson to run the Port Authority, the sprawling bistate agency charged with overseeing the Hudson River crossings, the docks and airports and bus terminals on both sides, and the World Trade Center. In the photo, the site looks as it had for years—little more than dirt and ramps, with concrete and steel poking out of the earth here and there. Above it hangs another photo—swapped out each week by Mr. Ward—that shows how far the project has come.

This week, the photo is of a nearly completed memorial plaza, the ghostly square fountains lined with black granite and surrounded by saplings, with 1 World Trade Center rising 68 stories to the right, Tower Four beginning to blossom and the foundations of two larger siblings noticeably underway. Facing the two pictures in the corner is a black-and-white portrait of Austin Tobin, the unsung Robert Moses contemporary who likewise ruled the Port Authority for decades. He seems to be smiling on the work of Ward.

“There’s a real point of pride there, watching one of your projects get built,” Mr. Ward said in an hour-long interview on Monday afternoon. How much longer Mr. Ward will be rotating pictures remains unclear.
When he was reappointed at the end of January, after the inauguration of Governor Andrew Cuomo, it was a slight surprise even to him. A phone call from the administration came only hours before the official announcement was made.

The agency’s executive director is a gubernatorial appointee, and the prevailing assumption since Mr. Cuomo’s election has been that—regardless of Mr. Ward’s success—his days were numbered. That assumption finally found its way into print last month when the New York Post reported—according to unnamed Port Authority and administration sources—that Mr. Ward would be dismissed shortly after the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“There are no plans to replace him at this time,” Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto told The Observer.

It is the first time they have made such a public endorsement since the reappointment, and still it does not comfort Mr. Ward’s suporters. “He’s done the job, and he’s done the job very well,” said Jerrold Nadler, the longtime congressman who represents the World Trade Center site. “He solved the problems. If you’re the New York governor, or even the New Jersey governor, it’s a great thing you don’t have a mess on your hands.”

As he does with his construction projects, Mr. Ward brings a sense of realism to his fate. “I serve at the pleasure of the governor,” he said. “I don’t have a contract. You never do. You come to work every day and do the best job, and that’s what gets me here, because I love it.

“Could I have been gone when David Paterson was governor? I could have been gone. Could I be gone when Andrew Cuomo is governor? I could be gone. That’s the nature of this job. Governor Cuomo appointed me at the start of this year, and I’m doing the best job I can for as long as I can.”

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