Beyond BridgeGhazi: Samson’s Smelly Vote, Christie’s Sandy Money Trail
BridgeGhazi is branching out!
David Samson, the former Port Authority boss who resigned just as BridgeGhazi was (pardon the pun) ramping up, voted for a $256 million rebuild of Harrison, New Jersey’s decrepit PATH station (which services the Newark-Hoboken area, the Wall Street area, and lower Manhattan) mere months after a builder who retained his law firm revealed a plan to convert a nearby warehouse into high-end luxury apartments:
Samson, now embroiled in the George Washington Bridge lane-closure controversy, wasn’t the only commissioner with ties to land around the train station. Commissioner David Steiner also voted for the massive overhaul of the station, four months after he secured rights to build a 20-story apartment complex on another key parcel of land along the Passaic River, a half-mile from the commuter train stop.
The upgrade, planned for years but finally approved March 29, 2012, by the board Samson leads, is designed in large part to spur the rejuvenation of the gritty industrial city across the Passaic River from Newark, a renewal that would undoubtedly increase property values in the area.
The votes raise questions about whether the commissioners overstepped ethics rules meant to prevent entanglements between their private interests and their control over billions of dollars that flow through the public agency. The revelation marks the third time this month that the role of Samson, a close adviser to Governor Christie, who named him chairman of the bi-state agency, has come into question.
Samson said he had no prior knowledge of the lane-closing scheme at the George Washington Bridge, but documents released this month show he was angry that an internal memo criticizing the closure was leaked to the press.
Meanwhile, there are new questions about the way Governor Chris Christie channeled Hurricane Sandy funds:
Gov. Chris Christie helped channel $6 million in federal Hurricane Sandy recovery dollars to a project conceived years before the storm struck, in an Essex County town that was not particularly hard hit, records show.
The funding, pushed for personally by the Republican governor, was announced less than two weeks before the town’s Democratic mayor formally endorsed him for reelection.
The development is an $18 million senior center and housing complex in Belleville called Franklin Manor. One third of the cost — $6 million — is being paid for by a $1.8 billion pot of federally funded Community Development Block Grants to help the state recover from Sandy.
Christie administration officials say the project will help those displaced from the storm from other towns, and was approved partly because it was already planned and would quickly fill that need. But statements from the governor and officials from Essex County and Belleville at the project’s unveiling barely mentioned storm recovery, focusing almost exclusively on how the 137-unit housing project would help keep Belleville’s seniors in town.
Now — With the George Washington Bridge scandal raging and the mayor of Hoboken claiming top Christie administration officials blackmailed her by threatening to withhold Sandy funds — an affordable housing advocate and a prominent Democrat are questioning whether the Christie administration is fairly distributing federal Sandy aid.
“We don’t know the whole story of what happened here yet. But Governor Christie should not be ordering Sandy funds directed to pet projects,” said Adam Gordon, a staff attorney for the Fair Share Housing Center.
“What it points to is the need for further inquiry into how Sandy funds were part and parcel of the governor’s campaign for reelection,” said state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union). “And how they were misused for political purposes rather than going to those who really in need.”