10:25 am Oct. 31, 2011
Three years ago, the city and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced an agreement that promised to resolve a longstanding dispute over who would control security, and who would bear the costs of said security, at the World Trade Center site. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the time that the agreement would “provide a clear delineation of responsibility,” enabling the city and the authority to keep the site safe.
It didn’t take long for another dispute to arise.
By late 2009, it became clear that the Port Authority and the city disagreed about just who would foot the bill for an estimated $300 to $500 million in hard infrastructure, like bollards, sally ports, and sensors, intended to surround the 16-acre World Trade Center site and protect it from truck bombs.
“The city insisted on these measures, but they don’t want to pay for it,” a Port Authority source told the New York Post last week. “They just figured that the Port would cover it, but there’s no money and that’s been the message. And that’s coming right from Albany.”
Whether or not the actual language of the 2008 agreement explicitly requires the Port Authority to pay for the hard infrastructure in question remains unclear. The press release jointly issued by the authority and the mayor’s office three years ago says that the authority “will directly or through its tenants be responsible for, and bear the costs of, the installation and maintenance of all security equipment at the World Trade Center.”
(The mayor’s office, when asked for a copy of the agreement, referred this reporter to the Port Authority, which declined to provide it, absent a formal Freedom of Information Law request. Capital submitted one last week, shortly after the exchange.)
Meanwhile, Josh Vlasto, Andrew Cuomo’s spokesman, denied the existence of a city-state funding dispute, telling the Post, “The governor’s office is not familiar with this issue and does not have a position.”
The Port Authority, of course, is a bi-state agency controlled by the governors of New York and New Jersey, and Andrew Cuomo is the governor of New York. And though "familiar" is a relative term, a source familiar with the project said the governor’s office, including his director of state operations Howard Glaser, had definitely received written word of the dispute. (Whether Glaser read whatever was sent him is another matter.)
I emailed Vlasto to ask if his quote to the Post was accurate. He responded, “Yes and your sources are not.”
That the longstanding difference of opinion should be coming to a head right now, or at least that it should be coming to the press's attention, is probably not a coincidence. Cuomo and Christie have recently begun to assert control over the bi-state authority, which manages the region’s airports, ports, Hudson River crossings and, of course, Ground Zero, with an eye toward reigning in costs.
In late 2010, Christie nominated David Samson, a former New Jersey attorney general who served as counsel for Christie's gubernatorial campaign and then chaired his transition commitee, to chair the Port Authority board. (The New Jersey governor gets to appoint the board chair; the New York governor appoints the executive director.) The board voted Samson in on Feb. 3.
In October, nearly a year after taking office, Cuomo nominated his deputy secretary of economic development Patrick Foye to the executive directorship of the authority. Foye has no direct experience overseeing a transit and infrastructure agency, but he does has have ample public and private sector experience and, perhaps most importantly, will owe his job to Cuomo. (Foye's predecessor, Chris Ward, didn't.)
The proximate cause of the current flare-up between the city and the authority, at the bureaucrat level, isn't quite clear.
A well-placed source told me that Samson, the Christie appointee, is one of the chief reasons this security-funding issue has come to a head, a full two years after the dispute first surfaced. But a person close to Samson denied that was the case.
Either way, it comes back to the governors. This summer, they responded with stage-worthy histrionics to the authority's announcement that it would raise PATH train fares and tolls on the bridges and tunnels. This, even though Cuomo and Christie knew about the toll hikes a week ahead of time. They had dinner together a week before the highly controversial toll hikes were announced.
The governors ultimately agreed to "slightly smaller" toll hikes than originally proposed, and also announced they would launch an audit of the agency's finances.
"The reports of cost overruns, excessive overtime, and exorbitant spending must stop immediately," wrote the two governors in a letter.
This month, “a source close to the Cuomo administration” told the Post’s Fred Dicker than a yet-to-be-completed audit would reveal Ward had engaged in “extravagant overspending” to speed up rebuilding of the Ground Zero site in preparation for the attack’s tenth anniversary. (This does not comport with the general impression of Ward's tenure among transportation-and-infrastructure experts and elected officials from both parties.)
Prior to the attacks of 9-11, security at the authority-owned World Trade Center site was largely controlled by Port Authority’s police force. Afterward, the NYPD and P.A. police wrestled for control over security there, a conflict implicated as a a factor in the delayed redevelopment of the site. The agreement hammered out in 2008 called for the NYPD to draw up an overall security plan for the World Trade Center area, to be developed “with the concurrence of the Port Authority.”
The Port Authority would oversee all security operations at the new PATH hub, at the office towers at the site and at the memorial.
Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steel and Cas Holloway, deputy mayor for operations, are now representing the city in meetings with the authority on resolving this latest dispute and reaching some new agreement that might clarify the old one.
Late last week, I asked the mayor whether there had been any communication between the governor’s office and his office about the security dispute. He didn’t quite say.
"It’s a very complex process to provide security, but I think it’s probably safe to say lower Manhattan's maybe one of the most secure places in the world," the mayor said. "And it costs a lot of money. And we’ll always try to find a ways to pay for it. In the end, whether the money comes through the state or the state of New Jersey, the Port Authority, the city, the public pays. Someone’s got to pay for security. Businesses may pay their taxes, but then their products include taxes. There’s nothing free. If you want security, you’re going to have to pay for it. We live in a dangerous world and we’re determined to make sure that this city is safe."