JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) - The embattled Port Authority of New York and New Jersey focused at its monthly board meeting on Wednesday on how to improve transparency and accountability as protesters inside and outside called for the ouster of chairman David Samson.
Samson, who has been at the center of several controversies in recent months over potential conflicts of interest involving his powerful law firm, recused himself from a vote early in the public portion of the meeting and didn't return. He also skipped the customary post-meeting question-and-answer session with reporters, as he has for the last several months.
About two dozen protesters marched in front of the agency's building near the Jersey City waterfront holding signs that urged Samson to resign. Inside, several speakers asked for the same, including Bergen County Freeholder Jim Tedesco, who told Port Authority members the Bergen County board had approved a resolution to have Samson removed.
Tedesco criticized the Port Authority board for not providing a public explanation for traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge last fall that turned out to have been engineered by an aide to Republican Gov. Chris Christie along with a Christie appointee to the Port Authority, both of whom have resigned.
"It is unconscionable for you to sit idly by and not explain what took place," Tedesco said.
The traffic lane closures are the subject of state and federal investigations. In emails subpoenaed by a state legislative committee, Samson expressed anger at Port Authority executive director Pat Foye for trying to make himself look good by "riding in on a white horse" and reversing the closures, then leaking information to the press.
Since then, Hoboken's mayor has accused Christie's administration of pressuring her to approve a development project with ties to Samson's law firm, and a published report questioned why Samson didn't recuse himself from a vote to approve a $1-a-year lease for a New Jersey Transit park-and-ride lot when his firm did work for the agency. The Port Authority subsequently said Samson did recuse himself but the vote was mis-recorded.
Other published reports this week alleged Samson is the target of subpoenas by the U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey over contracts related to large-scale projects at the Goethals and Bayonne bridges.
Foye, who last month was quoted in the New York Daily News as saying Samson wasn't fit to lead the Port Authority, stood up for him on Wednesday, saying the bridge contracts were solid.
"I believe the procurements for both Goethals and Bayonne were both honest and competitive," he said. "I have no reason to believe they were compromised or tainted."
Foye didn't expand on his comments to the Daily News
Samson, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.
The Port Authority's new committee on oversight held its second meeting Wednesday, and agency vice chairman Scott Rechler proposed forming an advisory panel of former agency executives, academics and others. Samson questioned whether that group would include people with axes to grind against the agency and said he was concerned about impartiality.
Foye said he welcomed the proposal.
"Some of that input, I suspect, is going to be quite critical of the Port Authority as an institution," he said, "and it's time we heard that."