The New Jersey Transit board meeting set for Monday to vote on a contentious property acquisition in Hoboken pits outgoing Gov. Chris Christie in a fight with his successor, Phil Murphy.
It also sets up a potential conflict for a Christie staffer who will be taking a top post in the Murphy administration.
The Christie Administration wants a vote on the purchase of waterfront property at the Hoboken Dry Dock for use as a ferry maintenance facility. Murphy opposes that deal and wants NJ Transit to cancel their meeting. He has slammed Christie for rushing a vote on a state holiday – his last full day in office.
Since September 2017, Christie’s voting representative on the NJ Transit board has been Mary Maples, a senior counsel in the Authorities Unit. Earlier this week, Murphy named Maples as his Deputy Chief Counsel for Authorities. This could put Maples in a tough spot, although it’s more likely that Christie will send John Spinello, Maples’ boss, to vote.
There will be some questions down the road as to what position Maples took internally on the controversial deal; she would have written a memo on this, with a summary appearing on the weekly senior staff report that is circulated on Friday afternoons. Good luck to S.P. Sullivan and others when they file an OPRA request to get those memos and reports.
New York Waterway, the private inter-modal transportation company that operates Port Imperial, is owned by Arthur Imperatore. The Imperatore family has contributed over $1.5 million to candidates from both parties over the years. He contributed $2,500 to Christie’s Leadership Matters PAC in 2015.
One of New York Waterway’s lobbyists is Tonio Burgos, a former Port Authority Commissioner and Democratic National Committeeman. Burgos serves on Murphy’s transition team.
The plan is for NJ Transit to buy property from New York Waterway and then lease it back to the company.
It will be interesting to see if Christie’s appointees on the New Jersey Transit board follow him blindly to the end. One board member, James Finkle, contributed to Murphy’s gubernatorial campaign. And statistically, Flora Castillo is dependent on a clear telephone connection – she only attended three board meetings in person last year, she literally phoned it in the other eight times.
The whip count on this one is simple because Christie has three votes on the board – one each for the Governor’s Office, the State Treasurer, and the Commissioner of Transportation. Even if Finkle and Castillo run away, Christie wins the vote just by showing up — unless no one else does. Murphy has a chance to flex his muscle and keep some people away. Then there’s no quorum.
Other realities exist too: while Murphy is smart to be a bit theatrical on this – Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla is strongly opposed to a ferry maintenance yard and prefers to build a park on that site – the vote on Monday doesn’t matter much. By Tuesday afternoon, NJ Transit will belong to Murphy, and it’s likely that his team will have a chance to unravel whatever actions Christie takes on Monday.