The Port, After Samson

David Samson has quit as chairman of the Port Authority, claiming, through his sponsor, Governor Chris Christie, that this was the plan all along. Actually, Mr. Christie said, Mr. Samson had been looking to quit for some time but stayed on because of his selfless devotion to public service.

Well, look, that’s what he said.

In fact, Mr. Samson’s conduct at the Port showed no lack of enthusiasm for his work. What was lacking was a sense of propriety, of simple common sense. The man voted on issues on which he ought to have abstained and seemed to show no sign of concern that his law office was profiting handsomely thanks to his perceived clout at the Port and within the Christie administration.

Had he any sense of shame, Mr. Samson would have quit weeks, or months, ago. But he hung on, and by doing so, he did his friend, the governor, no favors. The scandal over a traffic jam in Fort Lee has mushroomed into a wider and arguably more important scandal about cronyism, insider politics and influence peddling, all thanks to Mr. Samson’s intricate web of interests.

Now that Mr. Samson is gone, Mr. Christie is trying to turn the conversation about the Port to something—anything—other than Bridgegate. He’s not wrong, although whether he is the man to bring true reform to the Port remains open to question. His credibility, after all, isn’t what it should be.

Forget Bridgegate for a moment. The Bergen Record reported the other day that the Christie administration pressured the Port for nearly $2 billion in toll money to fund badly needed infrastructure repairs in New Jersey. The Port’s lawyers questioned the legality of the move because the Port isn’t supposed to pay for projects outside of its own network. But Mr. Christie went ahead and announced that the Port would fund the projects before the agency approved the move. Some might call this bullying.

Clearly, the time has come for Mr. Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to get together and figure out how to return the Port to its original mission: regional cooperation on matters of commerce and transportation, to serve the people, not every politician from the statehouses to local town councils.

The Port’s commissioners need to bring expertise, not patronage requests, to the boardroom. It’s up to the governors to make that happen, if they are so inclined. 

The Port, After Samson