TRENTON, NJ—Governor Chris Christie announced yesterday afternoon that one of his closest confidants has resigned from one of the most powerful appointed positions in his administration.
Port Authority Chairman David Samson, who led Christie’s transition team in 2009 and whose private law firm has seen business boom since Christie appointed him to serve on the authority’s Board of Directors, resigned effective immediately.
Samson had become a flashpoint in the chaotic political landscape for the embattled Governor, as the news media repeatedly uncovered conflicts of interest between Samson’s public and private roles, forcing Samson to retroactively recuse himself from votes he cast in support of deals in some cases.
Perhaps the most damaging scandal to hurt Samson came when Hoboken’s Mayor accused the Christie administration of connecting potential Hurricane Sandy disaster aid funding with her support for a private development project represented by Samson’s law firm, Wolff & Samson.
Since then, news outlets such as WNYC and the Bergen Record have exposed strange practices and political maneuvering within the Port Authority, as well as conflicts of interest that appeared to benefit Samson’s law firm.
Wolff & Samson has also become a safe haven for former prosecutors who worked with Christie when he was US attorney.
Both Lori Grifa, Christie’s first head of the NJ Department of Community Affairs, and Jeffrey Chiesa, who Christie appointed to serve as Attorney General and eventually United States Senator, landed at Wolff & Samson after leaving from public office.
Samson was nearly an hour late to the authority’s board meeting this week in Jersey City, and appeared flustered before surprising the crowd of hundreds there to protest him when he left the meeting after just five minutes.
Christie defended the former Attorney General during the announcement of the Samson’s immediate resignation, saying he had “every faith and trust and confidence in David’s integrity.”
Samson’s firm represented the Rockefeller Group, a developer that wanted to build a skyscraper in the North End of Hoboken.
That city’s mayor Dawn Zimmer accused Richard Constable, who replaced Grifa as DCA head, and Christie’s Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno of threatening to withhold much-needed Hurricane relief funding from the city if she did not fast-track the building.
Zimmer said she would be willing to take a lie detector test to that effect in the bombshell interview with MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki.
After the scandal broke, the Rockefeller Group ended their relationship with Wolff & Samson and public scrutiny of Samson’s dealings increased sharply.
The scandals kept coming, and within a week’s time the Christie administration found their Sandy spending in New Brunswick called into question by NBC New York.
Seemingly the inverse of the Hoboken scandal, where Sandy money was allegedly withheld for inappropriate reasons from a community that needed it, controversies erupted over questionable spending of Sandy funds in towns that were not hit hard by the storm.
In Belleville, millions were spent on already-approved project around the time the town’s Democratic Mayor considered endorsing the Governor’s re-election campaign.
Likewise, in New Brunswick, a politically-connected developer received $4.8 million in Sandy funding to build a 16-story luxury apartment building that was approved months before Sandy struck, despite a highly questionable track record of meeting their obligations to state and local governments.
Meanwhile, the Governor came under fire for botching other relief efforts, having quietly spent tens of millions of dollars on a contractor that had to be taken off the job.
Hammerman-Gainer Inc (HGI) was in charge of overseeing aid programs intended for homeowners until December, but the administration did not disclose their dismissal.
The Christie administration also failed to adhere to a law the Governor himself signed that required independent monitoring of contracts that exceeded $5 million.
Boraie Development, the New Brunswick-based real estate company, previously reneged on deals to build new affordable housing units in the Hub City.
Nevertheless, the Christie administration bestowed millions in generous loans, tax credits, and direct aid in the form of Sandy money on the condition that the developer rent 20% of the building’s units at affordable rates.
At a recent Town Hall meeting, more than a dozen protestors called out the Governor for his “corrupt uses” of Hurricane Sandy relief aid, including $4.8 million that was steered to Boraie for the luxury building, currently under construction on Somerset Street in New Brunswick.
One of the protestors shouted at the Governor about Samson’s continued employment at the Port Authority as she was escorted out of the event by State Police.
“Why haven’t you asked Samson to resign?!?” shouted Carol Gay.
In fact, Boraie Development selected Wolff & Samson to serve as bond counsel for the Economic Development Authority in a deal that gave the developer financial assistance to build a 23-story skyscraper on the site of a former high school in Newark.
The building will not offer any so-called affordable housing.
That project was made possible by newly-elected US Senator and former Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who received tens of thousands in donations from the Boraie family since 2008.
Booker also ran a campaign office out of the first floor of 120 Albany Street, one of Boraie’s ritzy commercial office buildings in downtown New Brunswick.
Though the firm represented the EDA in the bond process, Boraie was responsible for selecting them from a list of 21 acceptable law firms and paying for their services.
EDA officials and HMFA officials have been completely silent about the questionable funding for nearly two months.
Still, yesterday, Christie defended Samson, who was not paid for the powerful role chairing the authority’s board.
“You can expect that when you ask people in the private sector that you can ask them to give up their private sector life which they use to support themselves and their families.”
Christie said Samson had been intending to retire for the better part of the past year, long before he was implicated in the evolving scandal regarding the purposeful closure of access lanes to one of the Port Authority’s many toll bridges.
“He’s 74 years old and he was tired. That’s what he told me,” said Christie, who said he asked Samson to stay on until after his re-election in November.
“I asked him as Governor to please stay… and in deference to me and to our longterm relationship he was able to stay on.”
Christie acknowledged that Samson was, at least in part, stepping aside to help usher in changes at the Port Authority.
Among the ideas Christie floated yesterday for fixing systemic problems at the Port Authority was splitting the bi-state agency into two state agencies, one each in New York and New Jersey.
Christie expressed support for Samson the last time he faced press questions on January 9, the morning after the bridge scandal hit the Governor’s office.
Samson had been implicated in the subpoenaed documents first released on January 8 by the Bergen Record.
Apparently, when the New York officials at the authority overturned the punitive policy decision, an official who would later resign in disgrace wrote that Samson was helping to fight back.
“Samson is helping us to retaliate,” read a message from a Christie ally had appointed to a newly-created six-figure job at the authority.
Yesterday, Christie said he asked Samson about the message and he said Samson told him he “didn’t know anything about it.”
The bridge scandal has also claimed the jobs of:
- David Wildstein, the former anonymous journalist who started the website PolitickerNJ.com and was hired by to a newly-created position at the Port Authority
- Bill Baroni, a former State Senator who Christie hired to run the day-to-day operations at the Port Authority
- Bridget Anne Kelly, a member of the Governor’s senior staff
- Bill Stepien, Christie’s campaign manager.
Baroni has since been hired by the Princeton-based law firm Hill Wallack, a firm that has been hired to legal work for the City of New Brunswick in recent years.
The bridge scandal was just the highest-profile scandal that befell Samson and the authority he runs this year.
Among them were astonishing revelations that the Port Authority began using a political process to determine which towns in New Jersey would receive steel wreckage from the ruins of the World Trade Center, the Port Authority’s most famous property.
New Brunswick was one of the towns that was promised or given wreckage during Christie’s term, according to city officials, who have not put the wreckage on display years later.
“An architect is under contract with the City and a design is being developed. Look to have a final design by Summer,” wrote Russell Marchetta, a spokesman for Mayor Jim Cahill, in January 2013.
Marchetta was promoted to Assistant Business Administrator after attacking New Brunswick Today’s reporting in a press release earlier this month.
Three of Marchetta’s relatives are in high-ranking positions in the Christie administration including his cousin and Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency Director Anthony Marchetta, Anthony’s daughter and Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd, and Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.