- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) - A former member of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s staff will take over as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s vice chairman, the highest New York-appointed position on the powerful bistate agency.

The authority’s board on Thursday approved Steven Cohen to replace Scott Rechler, who will remain on the authority’s board but is expected to leave within the next few months.

Cohen is an attorney and former federal prosecutor who was Cuomo’s counsel for four years when Cuomo was New York’s attorney general. He also served for a year as Cuomo’s secretary after Cuomo was elected governor.

His ascension comes at a time of change for the Port Authority’s leadership as it embarks on a new 10-year capital plan that will encompass several multibillion-dollar projects, including a new midtown bus terminal and large-scale redevelopments at LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports.

The authority has conducted a lengthy search for a new CEO, whose position would replace the positions of executive director and deputy executive director, but the agency has been unable to find a suitable candidate. Executive Director Patrick Foye, a Cuomo appointee, has remained while the search continues.

Additionally, the position of Chairman John Degnan, an appointee of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, would shift if New Jersey legislators pass a reform bill that would echo one passed by New York lawmakers and establish a rotating chairmanship with New York getting the first slot.

Cohen said he’s aware that his close association with Cuomo might lead some to view him as a rubber stamp for the governor.

“I’d be foolish to suggest I don’t have a sense of what the New York governor views as his priorities,” he said. “That said, you’re also a fiduciary and you have an obligation to people of the bistate area. I’m respectful and appreciative of the trust this governor has placed in me. But at the end of the day, you have to run an agency that has limited resources and you have to make decision and be respectful of the governing structure and the needs of the people in the area.”

Cohen has been on the Port Authority board since last summer.

Rechler, the CEO of a private real estate company, has been on the board since 2011 and has been instrumental in pushing for reforms at the Port Authority in the wake of the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal.

Recently he backed a plan to consider putting a new bus terminal in northern New Jersey, instead of in Manhattan, that was rejected by the board.

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