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 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.