Christie’s Port Authority — the house that pork built


“Hold me accountable.”

Those were the words of Former Gov. Jon Corzine during his 2006 inaugural address, when he called on the citizens of New Jersey to make sure he lived up to his promise of restoring the Garden State to better days.

This is commentary from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.

“Hold me accountable.”

Those were the words of Former Gov. Jon Corzine during his 2006 inaugural address, when he called on the citizens of New Jersey to make sure he lived up to his promise of restoring the Garden State to better days.

Four lackluster years later he was out, and U.S. Attorney Chris Christie swept in on a backlog of corruption prosecutions and promises to rid the state of the patronage jobs that most New Jerseyans had simply become accustomed to.

Unfortunately, Christie isn’t saying “hold me accountable” these days when it comes to the assembly line of patronage positions leading from his office to the The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. His new mantra seems to come straight from the desk of Alfred E. Neuman: “What, me worry?”

Oversight? No thanks.

Christie vetoed legislation that would have required open meetings with the public prior to voting on toll hikes. It would have also required the agency to submit to independent audits and publish its board of commissioners’ meeting minutes.

Under Christie, the Port Authority has become (or a better term would be remained) a high-priced patronage mill for the well connected. He has directed more new hires at the Port Authority than any governor from either state in more than a decade, including 50 people, dozens with ties to his administration, last January.

The most recent to receive posh positions have been Richard Bagger, Christie’s former chief of staff, and Phillip Kwon, Christie’s failed Supreme Court nominee. I guess one man’s patronage is another man’s reform. Christie denies that any of this is patronage, but here are just a few examples of politically connected people getting posh posts.

Like Fox News, I’ll report, you decide:

• Laurie Michel: Federal affairs director, $172,016. Previous job experience — the wife of South Jersey Republican leader David Norcross. Michel was a Washington lobbyist who donated to Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni’s Senate campaign.

• Dominick Fiorilli: Assistant director of new port initiatives, $95,004. Previous job experience — was the former chief of staff for Republican state Sen. Kevin J. O’Toole and regional campaign manager for McCain ’08.

• Rick Vander Wende: Contract administration manager, $94,822. Previous job experience — The former GOP mayor of Waldwick, Vander Wende both endorsed and donated to Christie’s gubernatorial campaign. He was director of customer service at a jewelry retailer.

• Robert Cressen: Senior project manager, $105,014. Previous job experience — was the former executive director of New Jersey Republican State Committee and a political consultant.

• Francis Hannan: Senior financial analyst, $85,124. Previous job experience — a former gourmet food broker, he is a Christie campaign donor and was vice chairman of the Passaic County GOP committee.

The list goes on and on (full list here, courtesy of The Record).  

I have a hunch this vast list of patronage posts and the nearly 50 percent toll increase Christie helped push through won’t be making it into his keynote address at this year’s Republican Convention in Tampa.

Of course, Christie is doing nothing that former governors haven’t done before him. But Christie was supposed to be different. He was supposed to rid the state of political corruption and clean up the mess in Trenton. He was Superman, taking on Lex Luthor.

His kryptonite, however, is green and comes bundled by the thousand, just like previous governors.

Remember when then-U.S. Attorney Christie testified before Congress about the $52 million no-bid monitoring contract he gave to his old mentor, former Attorney General John Ashcroft? Or how about the monitoring contract he gave to David Kelley, who had investigated Christie’s brother previously in a stock fraud case in 2005? You guessed it, Christie’s brother got off while 15 others were indicted.

Christie was even forced to admit to a Congressional panel that one of the law firms he had given a no-bid contract to has since made substantial donations to his campaign for governor. 

Christie likes to announce loudly and often how he’s taking on the special interests, that he alone is fighting the corruption and greed that the combination of money and politics creates.

Unfortunately, it’s followed by the “oinks” and “snorts” of a trail of money and patronage he’s left behind him, all paid for by you.

 

Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.