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N.J. Bill Would Replace 3 PANYNJ Officials With 'Public Interest' Members

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A Democratic New Jersey lawmaker has introduced legislation to replace three of Republican Gov. Chris Christie's nominees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) board, including board Chairman David Samson. The bill seeks to replace those members with "public interest" members nominated by the nonprofit and advocacy organizations New Jersey Future, Trenton, and Tri-State Transportation Campaign, New York; as well as research and advocacy group Regional Plan Association, Princeton.

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The move comes amid questions raised over whether the governor played a role in the September closure of two entrance lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge and also whether Samson has violated conflict-of-interest rules related to contract awards. According to media reports, Samson is reportedly under investigation in connection with certain PANYNJ awards to clients of his law firm, Wolff & Samson.

Excluding reappointments, the bill seeks to replace the three most recent appointees, Samson and commissioners Pat Schuber and Richard Bagger. Unlike previous board nominees, the new members would not be subject to the advice and consent of the N.J. Senate, said State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), who introduced the bill in a March 24 press release.

"The abuse of this multibillion-dollar public agency can only be prevented in the future by having public interest members overseeing the authority's decision making who are not tied to either the governor or the state Senate," Lesniak said.

"While political considerations were part of the process under previous democratic and republican governors, Chris Christie made the Port Authority a wholly owned subsidiary of his re-election campaign," he added. A Lesniak aide said that the formal bill, S1912, is expected to be posted online soon.

PANYNJ had no comment on the action.

Lesniak said that, under a federal compact that formed PANYNJ, New York and New Jersey must both approve the legislation. He added that he believes New York "would not object to New Jersey deciding the composition of the board's members in light of the recent exposure of abuses."

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