If Cuomo Fires Chris Ward, NY and NJ Will Lose a Proven Leader

Chris Ward may only have a few months left as executive director of the Port Authority despite a record of success. Photo: Port Authority ##http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/23/ask-about-the-port-authority/##via NYT##

Chris Ward may only have a few months left as executive director of the Port Authority. According to a report in the New York Post, Andrew Cuomo intends to replace the Paterson appointee this fall, once the ceremonies marking the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks have passed.

Ward has been widely lauded for his stewardship of the Port Authority. Before Cuomo took office, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign urged him to keep both Ward and MTA chief Jay Walder in their positions. Now in response to rumors that the governor may fire Ward, environmental and transportation advocates are rallying to his side.

“The Port Authority is cleaner, greener and more efficient thanks to Chris Ward’s leadership,” said Tri-State Executive Director Kate Slevin.

“He stands up for the public interest, whether that’s with the real estate industry, the construction industry, or other agencies,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “He’s looking out for the public, whether that’s bus riders or bike riders.”

Rumors of Ward’s ouster come at an important moment for the Port Authority. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has for months been trying to use Port Authority funds to pay for local road projects that would normally be funded by the state department of transportation. If successful, Christie’s plan would transform the Port Authority from an agency dedicated to regional planning and long-term investment into a piggybank for the two states. Bus riders would be hit especially hard as potential investments in projects like a larger Port Authority Bus Terminal get postponed and neglected.

As executive director, Ward has perhaps attracted the most attention for his successful guidance of the World Trade Center reconstruction, which has made significant progress recently. His skills as a financial steward extend to the Port Authority’s transportation business as well. The development of a plan to build a new Goethals Bridge under a public-private partnership could serve as a model for future infrastructure projects across the region, said Slevin.

In an era of tight budgets, Ward put forward a 2011 budget for the Port Authority with no growth but didn’t lose sight of the need for investing in the region’s future. In part, Ward struck that balance by eliminating wasteful spending where he could find it. He cut consultant spending by 32 percent and overtime by 20 percent, said White, but “nobody would say that the Port Authority is doing less.”

The current budget crisis has demanded tough decisions in addition to bureaucratic efficiency-finding. Ward refused to use Port Authority funds to provide extra financing for Larry Silverstein’s World Trade Center developments, Slevin explained, while pushing for PATH upgrades, freight improvements and better cross-Hudson bus service to be prioritized in the authority’s capital plan.

Progress has been especially apparent on the realm of freight. Slevin pointed to the Port Authority’s recent acquisition of a Jersey City rail yard that will allow New York City’s trash to be transported across the Hudson by barge and then transferred to trains rather than being hauled on city streets in thousands of polluting trucks. Last year, the Port Authority announced a truck replacement program to get the oldest and dirtiest trucks out of the port and off the streets.

Last March, Ward also officially committed the Port Authority to integrating bicycles into the authority’s operations. Ward promised to remove restrictions on bicycles at Port Authority facilities, build more bike lanes and bike parking, and encourage its tenants to accommodate cyclists.

White praised the Port Authority’s work to take transportation dollars marked for beautification of the Palisades Parkway and repurpose them for a bike connection to the George Washington Bridge. “Instead of helping people gaze at flowers from the windshield of their car, they made a safe cycling route from the bridge down to the park,” he said.

Ward has also won praise from environmentalists for greening his agency’s operations. Marcia Bystryn, the president of the New York League of Conservation Voters and a former Port Authority official, said in a statement:

Under Chris Ward’s leadership, the Port Authority has set a high bar for environmental sustainability. That includes committing to reducing the Port Authority’s carbon footprint 80 percent by 2050, developing a wind farm on its property and leading the way for better solid waste management through the purchase of energy certificates. The Port Authority needs talented, forward-thinking leaders like Chris Ward.

  • car free nation

    Cuomo is turning out to be a major disappointment. Property tax cap? Getting rid of talented employees ’cause you don’t have a rapport? Killing the millionaire’s tax?
    Next thing you know, he’ll be advocating a reduction in the gas tax.Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I miss Patterson. 

  • car free nation

    Cuomo is turning out to be a major disappointment. Property tax cap? Getting rid of talented employees ’cause you don’t have a rapport? Killing the millionaire’s tax?
    Next thing you know, he’ll be advocating a reduction in the gas tax.Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I miss Patterson. 

  • Anonymous

    There’s something very much missing here.

    My understanding is that firing a Port Authority director requires both New York’s and New Jersey’s governors. Can anyone shed some light on how Cuomo can do this without Chris Christie? Where does Christie stand on this?

    Given his political stance and need to make NJ stand out, I can’t imagine Christie doing anything that satisfies the Andy Cuomo’s venal “dark prince” impulses.

  • Eliot

    Presumably Christie would be happy to lose a competent PA head who’s not afraid to challenge him.  So which two-bit hack will get the job and assist the brave governors in returning our infrastructure to 1970’s-style decay?  

  • Bolwerk

    No, actually, I think NJ and NY each get to appoint certain officials. NYS gets to appoint the executive director and NJ gets to appoint a chairman.

    NYC gets screwed!

  • True to his word, this past September Ward released a Port Authority bicycle masterplan. It has honest assessments of the current lack and future potentials of bringing bikes into the picture on bridges, tunnels, airports alike.
    http://www.panynj.gov/about/bicycle-plan.html
    He deserves to stay at his post. If he’s fired, I hope he goes out with a bang that makes Cuomo look back, and manages to move onto another position that helps make inch NYC towards more sustainability.

  • Anonymous

    Back in 2000, a delegation of us enviro-transpo pricing advocates went to the Port’s WTC office to meet their experts who were finalizing their new time-varied bridge and tunnel tolls. “Their experts” turned out to be one guy, Chris Ward, then a senior manager, whose technical acumen easily matched ours, combined.

    Ward has turned out to be at least as smart on the big picture. It will be a big loss indeed if Cuomo and Christie pull the trigger.

  • Guest

    Chris Ward is smart, credible and not afraid to tell the truth. That’s the wrong kind of guy to have around when Cuomo teams with Christie to steal as much as they can from the Port. New York has had no qualms about defunding it’s own transit, roads and bridges. Why would Cuomo give a crap about regionalism and NJ commuters?

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    This would be a great job for Iris Weinshall.

  • Andrew Willner

    Chris Ward is doing a good job balancing the many roles of the Port Authority.  He is a Port Advocate who understands the implications of good water quality, habitat protection, and global climate change on the economy of the New York/New Jersey Port.  The Governor would be hard pressed to find a comparable replacement. 

  • DaFrZa3

    The position is one of political patronage. Cuomo is only keeping Ward on through the 9/11 10 year anniversary and memorial unveiling. Its tough for Cuomo not to appoint his own guy at this $300k+ a year post. Favor for favors.

  • DaFrZa3

    The position is one of political patronage. Cuomo is only keeping Ward on through the 9/11 10 year anniversary and memorial unveiling. Its tough for Cuomo not to appoint his own guy at this $300k+ a year post. Favor for favors.

  • DaFrZa3

    The position is one of political patronage. Cuomo is only keeping Ward on through the 9/11 10 year anniversary and memorial unveiling. Its tough for Cuomo not to appoint his own guy at this $300k+ a year post. Favor for favors.

  • DaFrZa3

    The position is one of political patronage. Cuomo is only keeping Ward on through the 9/11 10 year anniversary and memorial unveiling. Its tough for Cuomo not to appoint his own guy at this $300k+ a year post. Favor for favors.

  • Jim

    Maybe the twin towers have another chance to be rebuilt now since this piece of garbage will leave the PA….

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