With Chris Christie under scrutiny for patronage, the P.A. releases a long-touted audit quietly

Chris Christie. (Via hobokencondos flickr stream.)
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With New Jersey governor Chris Christie under scrutiny for what appear to be dozens of patronage appointments to the Port Authority, his and Governor Cuomo's long-anticipated audit of the agency was released quietly on Tuesday at 4:30 pm, following a briefing with reporters a half hour earlier. 

At 5:34 p.m., the governors released a joint statement saying, "This record of historic failure must be reversed."

(“I think this patronage thing hamstrung them,” said one lobbyist who was involved with the World Trade Center redevelopment, referring to the muted announcement.)

The audit detailed some $4 billion in cost overruns at the World Trade Center site since the last time the numbers were recalibrated in 2008, twice the number initially bandied about. It criticized the leadership of former executive director Chris Ward, and provided a supporting argument for the authority's hard-line stance in an ongoing dispute with the mayor over funding for the September 11 Memorial and Museum.

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The $4 billion of cost overruns include more than $500 million at the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, nearly $850 million at 1 World Trade Center, and $833 at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum site.

Much of that $4 billion number is the subject of dispute between New York City and the authority, including up to $500 million in security hardware,  and more than $300 milion in Museum expenses.

The board had been briefed on up to $1.625 billion in cost overruns in March.

This audit focuses heavily on what it calls "costs spent on behalf of third-party stakeholders."

"Assuring the collectability of these funds, particularly in instances such as the Memorial where funding obligations are already in dispute, must be a key priority of the Port Authority," the auditors wrote.

The mayor's office responded with the following statement, from spokewoman Julie Wood: "We agree with Port Authority leaders that getting their fiscal house in order should certainly be a priority given the major infrastructure challenges faced by our city. Opening the Memorial in time for the 10th anniversary was a key achievement in transforming the site of a global tragedy into a Memorial that welcomes visitors from around the world. We have a lot of progress still to make and some disagreements to resolve, but we look forward to working with the Port Authority to meet future goals at the World Trade Center site and on other projects."

Ward was not mentioned by name in the report, but it does refer to the authority's "previous executive director" in less-than-flattering terms.

"Under the previous Executive Director, trust and confidence between the Board of Commissioners and its executive management reportedly deteriorated; as a result, the Board of Commissioners adopted roles and responsibilities in daily operations and management atypical for a governing board," it reads.

Ward was never much liked by Cuomo or Christie (who referred to him publicly as an "awful manager"), and both governors actively sought to undermine his (good) reputation in the course of moving him out and installing their own appointees.

Christie and Cuomo demanded the audit, costing more $2 million, amid the uproar sparked by this year's fare and toll hikes on authority-controlled bridges, tunnels and trains.

Though the governors control the Port Authority and dined together shortly before news of the toll and fare hikes was released, they denied prior knowledge of the fare hikes and demanded a comprehensive review of the authority's operations. 

News about the audit's findings began to leak into the papers as early as October, with the New York Post's veteran state editor Fred Dicker, who enjoys enviable access to the governor and sources "familiar with Cuomo's thinking," reporting that the audit had revealed "extravagant overspending."

That report was in October. The actual text of the audit indicates that the review of the Port Authority's operations began in December.