- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - David Samson resigned Friday as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the latest in a series of developments to rock the agency in a lingering scandal over lane closings at the George Washington Bridge.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who appointed Samson in 2011 after Samson had headed the new governor’s transition team, announced the resignation a day after the release of a taxpayer-funded internal investigation that cleared Christie of any wrongdoing in the lane closures. Samson hasn’t been implicated in the planning or authorization of the lane closures, which led to the resignations of Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni and the agency’s director of interstate capital projects, David Wildstein.

Samson, 74, issued a statement saying, “Over the past months, I have shared with the Governor my desire to conclude my service to the PANYNJ. The timing is now right, and I am confident that the Governor will put new leadership in place to address the many challenges ahead.”

The challenges do appear to be many for the Port Authority, which had already come under criticism on several fronts since well before the bridge scandal. Samson has faced questions over potential conflicts of interest between his position at the Port Authority and the activities of his law firm, Wolff Samson.

Some of the questions surrounded a $1-a-year lease deal awarded to New Jersey Transit for a park-and-ride lot near the Lincoln Tunnel that had previously cost more than $900,000 annually. Samson was recorded in meeting minutes as having voted to approve the deal even though, according to published reports, his law firm had represented New Jersey Transit. The Port Authority later explained that Samson meant to recuse himself but his vote was recorded incorrectly. The Port Authority said at this month’s board meeting that it would review the deal.

In January, Democratic Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer alleged that Christie administration officials tied her city’s Superstorm Sandy aid to her approval of a redevelopment project whose developer was represented by Samson’s law firm. Samson has declined to answer those allegations, but the report issued Thursday by the law firm Gibson Dunn and Crutcher absolved Samson of any wrongdoing.

Samson also has not answered questions about his actions during or after the lane closures, which snarled traffic in Fort Lee for four days last September and appear to have been the product of a political vendetta by since-fired Christie aide Bridget Kelly and Wildstein against the town’s Democratic mayor, who didn’t endorse Christie for re-election.

Wildstein mentioned Samson in an email to Kelly after Port Authority executive director Pat Foye ordered the lanes reopened, saying, “The New York side gave Fort Lee back all three lanes this morning. We are appropriately going nuts. Samson helping us to retaliate.”

Last month, the New York Daily News reported that Foye said in an interview that Samson didn’t have the moral authority to lead the Port Authority.

Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said the agency wouldn’t comment on Samson’s resignation Friday.

The agency was the focus of criticism after it raised tolls by 50 percent on its bridges and tunnels in 2011 after one day of public hearings. A report by the Government Accountability Office found the Port Authority didn’t give the public adequate reasons for the increases or enough time to comment.

Going forward, the Port Authority faces a possible restructuring. Thursday’s report recommended splitting it into New Jersey and New York divisions and changing the way board members are appointed.

The Port Authority recently formed an oversight committee to look at issues including conflicts of interest.

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