(Updates with Port Authority statement in 11th paragraph.)
(Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie accepted a plane ride and luxury suite tickets to a Dallas Cowboys home playoff game from team owner Jerry Jones, a director in a venture that does business with the Port Authority.
Jones is a board member of Legends Hospitality LLC, which won a contract in 2013 from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to develop and manage the observation deck on the 100th to 102nd floors of One World Trade Center.
Under an executive order signed by former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, a governor “may accept gifts, favors, services, gratuities, meals, lodging or travel expenses from relatives or personal friends that are paid for with personal funds.”
“Governor Christie attended the game last night as a guest of Jerry Jones, who provided both the ticket and transportation at no expense to New Jersey taxpayers,” Kevin Roberts, a Christie spokesman, said in an e-mail yesterday.
Christie, a second-term Republican who may run for president in 2016, was born and raised in New Jersey. He has been an unabashed Cowboys fan since the 1970s and has attended five of their games this season.
Pictures and video of the governor cheering on the Cowboys has sparked debate on social media over whether his allegiance is an insult to the local teams. It also has raised questions about who is paying for the trips and whether it’s proper for a governor to accept such gifts from Jones.
The Port Authority is controlled by Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The 94-year-old agency has more than 7,000 employees and oversees the New York City area’s three major airports, four bridges, two tunnels, marine terminals, a commuter rail and the World Trade Center site.
One World Trade Center, the Western Hemisphere’s tallest building at 1,776 feet, is a joint venture of the Port Authority and real estate developer The Durst Organization.
Christie and Cuomo had “called on” the authority board to award the deal to Legends, according to a press release issued by the agency in April 2013.
Legends was formed in 2008 by Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees, the National Football League’s Cowboys, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and CIC Partners. It operates catering, concessions, merchandising and other management services at the new Yankees and Cowboys stadiums.
The firm was chosen after a “highly competitive procurement process” that took 16 months, Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said in an e-mailed statement.
“Legends was selected as the highest value proposer from among six qualified respondents to the Port Authority’s request for proposals, based on extensive due diligence including comparables research, feasibility and constructibility studies, and extensive financial analysis,” Coleman wrote.
Legends’ proposal provided for the highest lease payments of any bidder, Coleman wrote. A team composed of Port Authority and Durst staff recommended that the board select Legends, he wrote.
Legends will lease the observation deck for 15 years, paying the Port Authority $875 million over the terms of the lease, according to a resolution approved by the agency’s board on March 20, 2013.
Jones’s link to the Port Authority was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal and the International Business Times.
The Port Authority has been involved in real estate since the start of the original World Trade Center project in the 1960s. A report last month by a panel recommending fixes for the agency said it should reorganize management and concentrate on its core mission of transportation.
The authority’s management and operations have come under scrutiny since Christie allies ordered lane closings at the George Washington Bridge in 2013. Christie, whose approval ratings slid after the scandal, has denied any involvement. Federal and legislative investigations are continuing.
Christie has tried to move past the bridge affair with public appearances, including performing skits on late-night television and calling into sports-radio talk shows,
The morning after the game, he called in to WFAN’s “Boomer and Carton” program to gloat.
“Believe me, I will take all the abuse I’m taking from some of these folks in return for Cowboys playoff wins,” he said.
--With assistance from Terrence Dopp and Elise Young in Trenton.
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