Port Authority Chairman David Samson is currently one of twenty facing subpoenas from the New Jersey legislature over the closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge to Fort Lee. He is also being probed, the Bergen Record reports, for improperly voting on million-dollar projects that could go to his private company.
Samson, who was nominated to the Port Authority Board of Commissioners by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and rose to the top of the administration, voted for a $256 million project that would see a complete reconstruction of the Harrison, New Jersey, PATH station. Harrison, a city just outside of Newark that was once an industrial center in the state, has suffered economic setbacks, and its PATH station is notorious for its state of disrepair and inability to handle too many commuters.
Samson and another commissioner on the board, David Steiner, voted to reconstruct the station almost from scratch. The vote, experts tell the Record, poses a conflict of interest because both Samson and Steiner have contracts to redevelop nearby land in Harrison–meaning an overhaul of the PATH station would directly increase the value of the land they handle in their private affairs.
Samson’s land, in particular, requires the aid of the government for much of its redevelopment. The land is currently listed as an “immediate environmental concern” due to chemical contamination, and Samson’s firm is working to mediate the situation to find the most equitable way to make the land habitable again.
Samson is a strong presence in the emails uncovered by the same newspaper, showing a direct link between the traffic lane closures in Fort Lee, now known as BridgeGate, and Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly. David Wildstein, the senior Christie aide alleged to have orchestrated the entire operation at the George Washington Bridge, tells Kelly that Samson “will help us retaliate” when Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye reopened the lanes to the town. Samson himself appears in the email chains, expressing outrage about a letter Foye wrote, condemning the lane closures leaked to the press, and accusing Foye himself of spreading the letter.
Samson is also involved in the other major Christie scandal: the alleged extortion of Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer regarding funds to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. Samson’s private firm, Wolff & Samson, would have been the recipient of the contract to redevelop land in northern Hoboken that, according to Zimmer, Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno implored Zimmer to approve. The variety of controversies in which Samson’s name appears has triggered speculation as to whether he will retire from the Port Authority chairmanship, following David Wildstein out. Samson was also photographed with Wildstein and Governor Christie the first day of lane closures into and out of Fort Lee.
In the Harrison case, Samson’s firm had previously proposed turning warehouses near the PATH station into “hundreds of luxury apartments,” the value of which would increase exponentially with a brand new PATH station. The Record notes that, while Samson has denied wrongdoing in any of these cases, he has retained private counsel. Samson’s spokesperson told the paper that Samson “has always held himself to the highest personal and professional standards, including consistently complying with applicable rules adopted by the Port Authority.”
Harrison poses something of a mirror image to the situation in Hoboken. Mayor Ray McDonough was the first Democratic mayor in the state to endorse Christie. Christie’s connections at the Port Authority, according to the Record, made the redevelopment of the Harrison PATH station and its surrounding land “a priority at the request of McDonough.” The votes then seemed to come quickly, and firms like Wolff & Samson took interest in redeveloping contaminated and otherwise unused land. No official entity has found the voting on Samson’s part improper, but political science and Port Authority experts are raising questions that only serve to worsen the image of a figure already embroiled in a scandal of significant impropriety.