WOODBRIDGE, NJ—In a surprising move, lame-duck Republican Governor Chris Christie appointed the Chairman of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization (MCDO) to one of the most powerful boards in the region.
Kevin McCabe will join the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s Board of Commissioners for the first time at their next public on February 15.
The agency has an $8 billion annual budget and runs the region’s seaports, airports, bridges, tunnels, a Manhattan bus terminal, the PATH subway system, as well as several other major infrastructure and real estate projects.
McCabe, a Sewaren-based politician who has led the county party organization since 2013, has been a close ally of disgraced former Governor Jim McGreevey.
He joins other Christie allies on the twelve-member board, including current Chairman Kevin O’Toole, and Richard Bagger, Christie’s first Chief of Staff.
McCabe got his start in politics as an aide to then-Mayor McGreevey, and first rose to prominence as the head of the NJ Department of Labor once McGreevey ascended to become Governor.
The hiring of McCabe, at the time just 32 years old, to lead the $462 million department and its 3,800 employees, raised eyebrows, as did several other young men that the Governor surrounded himself with.
McCabe and McGreevey were also scrutinized for frequent drinking and visiting strip clubs, according to a report by award-winning reporter Mark Mueller:
Three long-standing political allies said McGreevey sometimes broke away from campaigning for hours at a time to visit go-go bars in Sayreville, South Amboy, Old Bridge and Rahway. The trips were common enough to merit their own euphemism around the mayoral campaign: “McGreevey is out knocking on doors in Sayreville.”
Associates familiar with these trips said they were typical macho outings: McGreevey drank beer, flirted with dancers, tipped them sometimes and was just one of the guys. Frequently, McGreevey or members of his entourage recounted the go-go bar outings around the office the next day.
At times, McGreevey was accompanied by his friend [then-Rahway Mayor Jim] Kennedy or mayoral aide Kevin McCabe, whom he later appointed state labor commissioner.
McGreevey resigned in disgrace from the Governorship in 2004 after it was revealed that he hired a man who he was having an extramarital affair with to a government position that he was not qualified for.
After McGreevey’s fall from power, and an unsuccessful attempt to keep McCabe in his government job, he landed at the NJ Regional Council of Carpenters. He has since risen to become President of the Carpenter Contractor Trust for New York and New Jersey.
Christie’s decision to appoint not just a Democrat, but the Chairman of the county’s Democratic Organization, to the powerful Port Authority Board was just one of a few subtle clues over the last eight years that Christie had a quiet alliance with the “opposition” party here in Middlesex County.
On January 3, New Brunswick Today asked McCabe how he pulled off the impressive feat of being appointed to the powerful bi-state agency.
“I was appointed. I didn’t pull off anything, I was appointed,” responded McCabe.
In some ways, the authority is still recovering from a string of corruption scandals including the infamous purposeful traffic jam caused by Christie’s associates at an onramp to the George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest motor vehicle bridge.
That scandal, widely credited with dashing Christie’s hopes of becoming US President, also served to put the massive corruption of the Port Authority’s then-Chairman David Samson under a white-hot spotlight.
It was revealed shortly thereafter that the authority had become a highly-politicized, wasteful, and corrupt agency that sometimes lied to the public.
Samson eventually pleaded guilty to extorting United Airlines to maintain a money-losing airline route to help him spend his weekends at a home he owns in South Carolina.
Like David Wildstein, the mastermind of the traffic jam scheme that became known as “Bridgegate,” Samson was able to avoid prison by cutting a deal with federal prosecutors who gave him favorable treament.
In addition to his allies in Woodbridge, McCabe also keeps in touch with former Senate President and New Brunswick Mayor John Lynch, Jr., the longtime political boss who Christie successfully prosecuted for corruption in 2006.
McCabe, the convicted felon Lynch, and Lynch’s cousin, current New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill, were spotted lunching together at Steakhouse 85 in downtown New Brunswick on May 1, 2017.
Between Lynch and Cahill, the two men have controlled the city’s top office since 1979.
But McCabe gets his power from another political epicenter: Woodbridge Mayor Jon McCormac, who served as State Treasurer under McGreevey and his successor, Richard Codey.
McCormac, Cahill, and the man who took over Lynch’s State Senate seat, Bob Smith, make up the triumverate of power within the county’s powerful political machine.
When New Brunswick Today asked Cahill whether or not he kept in touch with Lynch—who completed his federal prison term in 2009—Cahill seemed to say they only met to discuss “friends and family.”
“Do I consult with him? No,” said Cahill in response to a direct question about his relationship with Lynch.
But when questioned about the presence of McCabe at their steakhouse meeting the following day, Cahill told New Brunswick Today that “John and Kevin go back to at least the McGreevey days, so it’s not uncommon for Irish guys to get together and spin some stories.”
“Does something political come up?” Cahill asked rhetorically. “I mean, you can’t have three people who have been involved in politics not mention something about something, but it is no different than any group of other people who get together and talk about politics and life.”
“Most of the conversation deals with family, sports, mutual friends, and catching up on old times.”
Christie left office on January 16, handing over the state’s top office to Democrat Phil Murphy, whose easy victory in the 2017 gubernatorial election was helped along by some early support from McCabe.
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.