Christie Appointee Made Millions Off Transportation Connections

Tuesday, 11 Feb 2014 11:11 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and his law firm have earned millions of dollars from New Jersey transportation projects — both before and since Samson took the helm at the agency, WNYC reports.

Nominated to the Port Authority's top job by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in September 2010, the 74-year-old Samson has advanced his own business interests while doing the public's business at the Port since his 2011 confirmation, according to WNYC.

Among Samson's gains:

• In July 2010, his law firm, Wolff & Samson, entered into an unspecified "public-private partnership" with NJ Transit for a sum of $1.5 million. NJ Transit's midtown Manhattan bus terminal is subsidized by the Port Authority "through cheap rents, and the Port Authority has sent NJ Transit an occasional infusion of funds for the acquisition of rail cars," according to WNYC.

• In 2011, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority — which operates the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway — named Wolff & Samson its general counsel. The law firm earned $2.67 million in fees from the agency over the next two years.

• Weeks before Samson's nomination to the Port Authority board, his firm was hired as bond counsel to the South Jersey Transportation Agency, the government agency that runs the Atlantic City Airport. Records show Samson's firm earned $113,701.32 over the next two years, and an official told WNYC the firm still represents the agency.

Further, according to WNYC, The New York Times reported in January that Wolff & Samson privately lobbied NJ Transit on behalf of the Rockefeller Group in connection with a Hoboken redevelopment project.

"The city's mayor, Dawn Zimmer, contends that the Christie administration threatened to withhold Sandy aid to Hoboken unless the Rockefeller project went forward," the report states. "The Port Authority granted $75,000 for a study of the area that ended up favoring Samson's client. The Times also reported that NJ Transit signed a memorandum of understanding last June with the Rockefeller Group, without Zimmer's knowledge."

A year ago, the Port Authority voted to take over the fledgling Atlantic City Airport, though Samson recused himself from the vote, notes WNYC. Samson has declined to comment on investigations into the Hoboken project or the scandal involving the Port Authority's closing two of three traffic lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in September.

On the campaign trail and since his election, Christie has touted rehabbing Atlantic City as a top priority.

John Wisniewski, a Democrat who chairs the Assembly Transportation Committee — the committee spearheading the investigations — tells WNYC that "it certainly raises the appearance there's something not correct."

"Having high-level appointees essentially help themselves to opportunities that aren't available to other people can lead to a suspicion that things are not being done for the right reasons."

According to the Wolff & Samson firm website, Samson was counsel to Christie's gubernatorial election campaign and later served as the chairman of the Transition Committee for Gov. Christie. He was elected chairman of the Port Authority on Feb. 3, 2011, after Christie nominated him for the job.

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