NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- The war of words has escalated at the embattled Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
A day after Executive Director Patrick Foye slammed Chairman David Samson in print as unfit to lead the bistate agency, five members of the agency's board of commissioners sent a letter to Foye criticizing his "harsh personal attack."
The letter, obtained by The Associated Press, is signed by board members Anthony Sartor, Raymond Pocino, David Steiner, William Schuber and Richard Bagger. All are New Jersey appointees to the board, as is Samson, a Gov. Chris Christie appointee. Samson didn't sign the letter.
In a story posted online Tuesday, the Daily News reported Foye, an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, told the newspaper's editorial board that Samson didn't have the moral authority to lead the bistate agency, which has been under fire for lane closures at the George Washington Bridge last September that apparently were orchestrated by an aide to Gov. Chris Christie and a Christie ally at the Port Authority.
"Your inflammatory statement about the Chairman's `moral authority' will breed division and dysfunction in our organization, serves to improperly undercut the leadership of this agency, undermines the lawful authority of our Board, and will damage the morale of the many hardworking Port Authority employees," the letter reads.
The U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey is conducting a criminal probe into the closures, which caused extensive gridlock in the town of Fort Lee, affecting emergency services and making thousands of people late for work and school. Christie has not been directly linked to the planning of the closures, which appear to have been created for political purposes.
Several people have resigned in the wake of the revelations, including Christie aide Bridget Kelly, Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, a Christie ally and former political blogger who was the Port Authority's director of interstate capital projects.
Wednesday's development is the latest example of tensions between the New York and New Jersey factions of the Port Authority, an agency that operates bridges, tunnels and airports in the New York metropolitan region and oversees billions of dollars in capital projects. The board members are appointed by the two governors; the chairman and deputy executive director are appointed by New Jersey and the executive director is a New York appointee.
Emails and text messages released by a New Jersey legislative committee in January showed Foye angrily reacting to the lane closures, which he was unaware of until after they had begun. In a memo ordering the lanes reopened, he called the closures "hasty and ill-advised" and "abusive" and questioned whether they violated federal law.
Samson's reaction, in a separate email to another board member, was to take Foye to task for allegedly leaking his memo to a reporter so he could "ride in on a white horse to save the day." In another message released by the legislative committee, Wildstein wrote after Foye ordered the lanes reopened that Samson was "helping us to retaliate." Samson hasn't commented on the content of the messages.
Through spokespeople, Foye and Samson declined to comment Wednesday.
Samson, a former state attorney general who led Christie's transition team, has come under scrutiny for possible conflicts of interest between his position at the Port Authority and his law firm's work with various state government entities. The Record of Woodland Park reported recently that Samson's law firm was advising New Jersey Transit in 2012 when the Port Authority approved a $1-per-year lease extension for NJ Transit for a park-and-ride lot outside the Lincoln Tunnel.
Meeting minutes reflected Samson voting to approve the deal, but a Port Authority lawyer recently wrote a letter saying a review found Samson meant to recuse himself, but his vote was incorrectly recorded.