Port Authority leadership in flux as CEO search strikes out
NEW YORK (AP) — The future leadership of the region’s largest transportation authority was uncertain Thursday as Port Authority of New York and New Jersey officials announced that the search to fill the newly created position of CEO had come up empty and the process would be extended.
At the same time, current Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, who has steered the powerful bistate agency through a rocky four years, announced he was taking his name out of consideration for the new position.
The news came as the Port Authority — already overseeing billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including the World Trade Center transportation hub, Bayonne and Goethals bridges and LaGuardia Airport — takes on the task of overseeing the effort to build a new Hudson River rail tunnel, estimated to dwarf the other projects in cost.
Foye, who emailed employees Thursday morning notifying them he was stepping down, later called it “my decision, my choice and one I’m entirely comfortable with.” He said he would remain for four months to help in the transition.
Port Authority Chairman John Degnan said between eight and 12 candidates were interviewed from an initial list of 15, but that misgivings were expressed at a search committee meeting last week. Foye was in the running at that point, Degnan said.
“We decided we just didn’t feel satisfied with the skill sets of the people that were finalists,” he said.
Foye’s position and the position of deputy executive director are scheduled to be eliminated when the Port Authority fills the CEO job. The changes are part of sweeping efforts to reform the agency following the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal and criminal investigations into the way the Port Authority has conducted its business in recent years.
Degnan and Vice Chairman Scott Rechler said the Hudson rail tunnel project, along with recent major projects at the airports and a planned new bus terminal in New York City, affected the decision.
“There was an evolution in terms of what we were looking for,” Rechler said.
The Port Authority recently was named to oversee the financing and execution of the tunnel project, expected to cost roughly $20 billion when other improvements to rail infrastructure are taken into account.
Foye has served as executive director since November 2011. During that time, the agency that operates bridges, tunnels, ports and airports in the New York metropolitan area, along with the World Trade Center site, has been buffeted by the George Washington Bridge scandal and state and federal investigations of its business practices.
Emails divulged during a New Jersey legislative investigation of the bridge scandal revealed that it was Foye who put a stop to the closing of access lanes to the bridge after four days of crushing gridlock in September 2013.
Former Port Authority officials Bill Baroni and David Wildstein later were criminally charged with orchestrating the lane closings, along with an aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as political revenge against a local mayor. Authorities say they then concocted a story that the closures were part of a nonexistent traffic study.
Wildstein has pleaded guilty, and Baroni and the former aide, Bridget Kelly, are due to go on trial in April.
Foye’s email to employees on Thursday praised the Port Authority for embarking on innovative public-private partnerships to fund massive improvements to LaGuardia Airport and the Goethals Bridge, recovering from widespread damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and taking a leadership role on the tunnel project.
Before his appointment to the Port Authority by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Foye served as Cuomo’s deputy secretary for economic development.