Bloomberg on the Cuomo-Christie Port Authority audit: ‘Easy to play Monday morning quarterback’

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Bloomberg with Raisa and Tyler Valerio. (Dana Rubinstein)
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This morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg contested the findings of a recently released Port Authority audit—one commissioned by Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie—saying, "Easy to play Monday morning quarterback."

The governors commissioned the audit following this summer's controversial Port Authority toll and fare hikes, of which they claimed to have had no foreknowledge. The purpose of the audit was purportedly to review the bi-state agency's ten-year capital plan, to review cost escalations at the World Trade Center redevelopment site, and to finds ways to improve the agency's organizational structure.

The authority is indeed a famously hard-to-govern agency, with nearly 7,000 employees, and a purview that includes all three major New York regional airports, cross-Hudson bridges and tunnels, PATH trains, and, of course, the World Trade Center site.

In political terms, the audit was a means of mollifying constituents angry about the toll hikes, and of shifting that anger toward the authority's outgoing executive director, Chris Ward, who was already targeted for removal by both governors.

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The audit claimed principally that the cost of redeveloping the World Trade Center site had ballooned by $4 billion since the last time its costs were recalibrated in 2008, and that one of the chief causes of the cost escalations was work done on behalf of "third parties."

The audit explicitly pointed to the September 11 Memorial and Museum--whose board is chaired by the mayor, and with which the authority is locked into a dispute over some $300 million in funding--saying that cost overruns had been incurred as part of an effort to open it in time for the tenth anniversary of the attacks.

"I don’t know where those numbers come from," the mayor said today.

He later added, "I don’t think the costs for the memorial or the museum are higher, basically, than what was originally envisioned."

The mayor then offered a spirited defense of the authority's former work at the site, and, by extension, of Ward.

"[C]an you imagine, if America couldn’t have come up with a memorial by the tenth anniversary, I would suggest that the press would have had a field day," said the mayor. "It would have gone on and on. It would have been an embarrassment around the world. New York had to deliver, the Port Authority had to deliver, the donors had to deliver. We raised $400-odd million in private monies."

"The Port Authority did a very good job," he continued. "I think the results, everybody that sees this memorial, the families think it’s a wonderful place to go and to remember their loved ones. People walk away saying, ‘I understand for the first time what happened to America and we’ve got to resolve not to let that happen again.’"

The mayor also argued that it's hard to fault an authority that managed to advance "perhaps the most complex construction project in the history of the world—legally, politically, engineering-wise."

"There’s a railroad that runs through it, two railroads!" said the mayor. "And they never stop. Nobody else could do that. Every building is dependent on every other one. Who could build all these things at the same time? ... The owner didn’t have title to the properties. The insurance companies were fighting. Every politician wanted to get involved. We had, I think, five different governors for the State of New Jersey and four different governors for the State of New York. And every time a new governor comes in ... things stop, and they all have to get on top of it and they have to say, you know, ‘I’m gonna do better.’ And I hope they all did, and I hope they all do."

"And any help that Governors Christie and Cuomo can give us, that’ll be great," he said.

The mayor made his remarks during the question-and-answer session of a press conference about child support, and the advances the city has made in the amount of court-ordered child support it has collected for parents with custody of their children.

In 2011, the city's Human Resources Administration collected $731 million in child support, the most ever, a 53 percent increase since Bloomberg took office in 2002.