Cuomo calls on Patrick Foye, public-sector efficiency expert, to run the Port Authority

Patrick Foye. (Geoffrey Walter.)
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Governor Andrew Cuomo has finally picked Patrick Foye as the next head of the Port Authority.

The news follows weeks of rumors that Foye would replace departing executive director Chris Ward, a Paterson appointee who is leaving his post, under fire from Cuomo's office, at the end of the month.

Foye has deep experience in the granular aspects of public finance and municipal governance. The son of a union leader, he started out as an attorney at white-shoe law firm Skadden Arps. By 1989, he had made partner. At Skadden, he handled merger-and-acquisition work and played a facilitating role in the wave of privatization that swept post-Communist Eastern Europe in the 1980s and '90s. (He represented Hungary when it sold a 35 percent stake in its national airline, Malev, to Alitalia.)

In August 1995, then-governor George Pataki appointed five people, including Foye, to the board of the Long Island Power Authority, which Pataki wanted to overhaul, so as to bring down the island’s stratospheric electricity rates.

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They came up with a plan.

“The plan, drafted by the Long Island Power Authority at Mr. Pataki's request, promises to cut electricity rates on Long Island by 12 percent through a partial state takeover of [Long Island Lighting Company] and the sale of the utility's gas operations and power plants to private companies," reported The New York Times in 1995.

In 1998, Foye left the law for real estate, taking a job as executive vice president of Apartment Investment and Management Company (AIMCO). During his tenure there, AIMCO became U.S.’s largest owner of federally subsidized housing. It also got rid of a lot of its affordable housing stock, which earned it some bad press.

Foye’s career took yet another turn in 2004, when he decided to ditch the private sector entirely and take a job as C.E.O. of United Way of Long Island. There, he initiated a series of Bloombergian reforms designed to make the non-profit run more like a for-profit.

“To address the gaps created by government cutbacks, Long Island social-service agencies, starting with United Way of Long Island, have to do more with less,” he wrote in a 2004 op-ed in the Times. “While we work to increase contributions large and small, we must also adopt the best practices of the business community, tailoring them to the health and human-service fields. For instance, charities must be transparent in their fund-raising, accounting and ethics. Just as corporate investors demand accountability and return on investment, nonprofit institutions must provide the same accountability and proof of results ... Good intentions, while a fine starting point, have never been enough. Now, nonprofit agencies must demonstrate that we have achieved our targets or where we have fallen short, how we propose to increase efficiency and address shortcomings."

That strategy seemed to play well among donors. By 2005, United Way had seen a 15 percent increase in donations, according to an article in Long Island Business News.

In 2006, Spitzer appointed Foye as his downstate chairman for the Empire State Develpment Corporation, where his work on major projects including the expansion of Penn Station and the Javits Convention Center were interrupted by Spitzer's abrupt departure in early 2008.

Unlike Ward, who had a nonexistent-to-poor relationship with Cuomo, Foye will have the public backing, and perhaps the actual confidence, of the governor. But given Cuomo's barely veiled attack this week on Ward for the authority's levels of spending downtown, Foye will have to find a way to continue the tangible, impressive progress Ward made at Ground Zero and elsewhere with, presumably, fewer resources.

"We were big fans of Chris Ward, and we hope he follows Chris Ward’s lead on a number of issues," said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "Chris Ward pursued a green freight program in the Port Authority, and he made a strong case for increased infrastructure investment. We hope Foye will continue those initiatives."