Christie hasn’t replaced board that angered him 5 years ago
In his first year in office, Gov. Chris Christie made a big show of his frustration with how the Delaware River Port Authority was doing business.
He vetoed board actions and held a news conference — uninvited — outside a meeting at the agency, which runs four Philadelphia-area bridges connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He called for major changes. But one factor that kept him from making more drastic moves was that the eight New Jersey delegates had been freshly appointed to five-year terms by Christie's Democratic predecessor, Jon Corzine.
All the New Jersey board members' terms have since expired. And they're all still serving.
The reason could speak to the Republican governor's political ambitions, his diminished sway over a Democrat-controlled state Senate, the works of the DRPA itself, or even the nature of nominations to New Jersey government posts.
Christie's office last week said it was no big deal that the board members have continued to serve.
"There's nothing unusual going on with the DRPA, or even generally with this overall process of dealing with nominations and Senate consent," Brian Murray, a spokesman for Christie, said in an email. "This administration is on par with previous administrations in the different successes and delays experienced in getting candidates nominated and seated into the hundreds of slots and positions that come due month to month."
But the DRPA is no ordinary board, or at least it wasn't seen as one when Christie became governor in 2010.
The agency, under shared control with Pennsylvania, is the cousin of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency at the center of the politically motivated traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge that led to a guilty plea of one official there, and indictments against another one and an aide to Christie. Christie has not been implicated in any wrongdoing and says he had no knowledge of the scheme.
The DRPA spent years helping pay for economic development projects in the Philadelphia area — including sports stadiums and the venue used by the Philadelphia Orchestra. By the time Christie came to office, the DRPA board had said it would not commit new money to non-transportation economic development projects.
Still, Christie held it up as an example of the authorities he wanted to rein in across the state.
In 2010, there was public uproar over revelations that authority employees were getting free bridge tolls and rides on PATCO, the commuter train line the agency runs.
Christie wanted an immediate end to that, as well as other changes. For instance, he objected to the agency's plan to hire a monitor to make sure it was staying honest.
But in recent years, Christie has been quiet about the DRPA.
Jeffrey Nash, the chairman of the New Jersey delegation on the board and a Democrat who is elected to Camden County's freeholder board, said it could be that the agency has done well.
"I would suspect they are satisfied with us and the way we have made changes," said Nash, who noted that there have been no toll hikes since 2011, and that the board is looking for ways to bring back discounts for regular commuters.
Matthew Hale, a political scientist at Seton Hall University, said Christie might not have much reason to fill those seats — or make any other key appointments that could become distractions— as he considers a run for president.
Christie has also had a yearslong standoff with Democratic lawmakers over the Supreme Court makeup and has not nominated a new member, leaving an appellate court judge to be promoted as a long-term substitute. His acting attorney general, John Hoffman, has been serving for two years without being submitted for confirmation before the state Senate.
DRPA board members also must be confirmed by the Senate.
"The Democrats are much more pugnacious than they were," Hale said.
Steve Sweeney, the southern New Jersey Democrat who's the president of the state Senate and has been both a political partner and foil to Christie, said the governor has not done all he can to make appointments. "When you want to compromise, things get done," said Sweeney, whose brother is a DRPA commissioner. "When you don't want to compromise, things don't get done."
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