Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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February 9, 2014

Ex-Port Authority head a key player in NJ scandal

(Continued)

"I was concerned about what Mr. Wildstein's reaction would be if I did not follow his directive," Durando said.

When a Bergen County newspaper, The Record, wrote a profile of Wildstein in 2012 that noted the criticism and questioned whether he was using the agency to further a political agenda, Christie administration officials were fiercely supportive.

"He is there in that job because he is well suited to the task of playing a role in reforming the Port Authority in accordance with the governor's goals," Christie's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, told the newspaper. "If he's not liked for that role, and if he's accused of being zealous in that regard, then we plead guilty."

Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni also defended his approach.

"If there are people who have been here for decades, who don't like the fact that we have a real aggressive approach to getting these projects done, they should get used to it. Our job here is not to make friends," said Baroni, who, like Wildstein resigned from the Port Authority in December.

In their latest attack on Wildstein, Christie officials cited that very article several times as evidence that he had created a "culture of fear" at the Port Authority and now shouldn't be believed.

Christie has repeatedly denied having any knowledge of the bridge lane shutdowns until they were over, when The Wall Street Journal reported on an angry memo in which the Port Authority's executive director, Patrick Foye, assailed the closures as improper. Foye is an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.

Emails, made public as part of a legislative investigation, indicate that the plan to close access lanes to the George Washington Bridge was implemented days after a deputy chief of staff for Christie, Bridge Anne Kelly, sent the "traffic problems" message to Wildstein.

"Got it," he replied. As the streets in Fort Lee became impassable, and the borough's mayor begged Port Authority officials for help, Wildstein and other Christie loyalists traded text messages and emails mocking the situation and disparaging the mayor.

Silence on their intended motive has prevented the public from knowing what prompted that exchange.

Wildstein's attorney, Alan Zegas, didn't return messages seeking comment.

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