The New York Port Authority got its start as a Progressive Era project–an agency that would work for the overall benefit of the very interconnected New York-New Jersey region. Who–outside of the Tri-State region–knew? Or maybe we knew, but forgot. Or maybe people who don’t like big-ass progressive projects that work for the common good just don’t want to know. Anyway…
Elizabeth Kolbert explains the Port Authority’s high-minded history as well as its more contemporary politicization in her New Yorker article, “How Chris Christie Ruined the Port Authority,”
…a product of the Progressive Era, the authority was to be insulated from the vagaries of politics on both sides of the river, which is to say also from Trenton’s and Albany’s multifarious forms of corruption. Half its commissioners would be appointed by the governor of New York and half by the governor of New Jersey, but to promote their independence they would serve staggered, six-year terms. Amazingly, this arrangement worked for the better part of the twentieth century. One of the Port Authority’s first major construction projects was, as it happens, the George Washington Bridge.
…The authority earned a reputation for integrity and professionalism. Writing in the nineteen-fifties, a reporter for the Newark News noted the “incredible vigor and efficiency” of its operations, “as contrasted with the slumberland of the average City Hall.”
Then, along came Chris Christie:
…As soon as Christie took office, in 2010, he set about stuffing the weakened agency with his supporters. A lawsuit filed by a former employee revealed that within two years the new administration had sought berths at the Port Authority for nearly fifty loyalists.
…By September, 2013, when the events at the center of the scandal took place, the authority was in such disarray that top-level Christie appointees were barely speaking to their colleagues from across the Hudson.