Corbett and Christie Hit Snooze on Fixing the Walt Whitman Bridge
Cynicism toward government seems to be at an all-time high. Why? Because rampant corruption—the kind that directly affects people—just isn’t being tackled seriously. Politicians campaign as straight-shooting, law-and-order reformers, hell-bent on rooting out corruption, and yet do nothing of the kind when elected. Sadly, they often end up as corrupt as those they challenged. The status quo remains intact, and, save for a bit of window dressing “reforms” here and there, it’s Business As Usual.
Nowhere is that more apparent than at the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), one of the most powerful—and corrupt—organizations in the entire nation.
But wait! Could there be hope of reforming the DRPA? Sources say a report from the New Jersey comptroller’s office will be released soon (possibly later this week), and that a gag order has been placed on its contents by the DRPA’s chairman, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. Sounds so cloak-and-dagger that it’s just possible to think maybe, just maybe, this might finally be the time when the bums are kicked out, replaced by honest folks with only one objective: responsible stewardship of the toll-payers’ money.
After all, on the other side of the river we have the firebrand governor Chris Christie, who, like Corbett, is a former prosecutor.
So will this be the day we’ve been waiting for?
Fat chance. Very fat.
For much of the past four years, I’ve been alone in my quest to upend the corrupt DRPA regime—taking on heavyweights like Ed Rendell, Jon Corzine, the Ballard Spahr law firm, and CEO John Matheussen—and eliminate mammoth conflicts of interest, fire double-dipping executives, and bring accountability to the agency. Joined by FOX 29 in 2010—and pretty much only FOX 29—a number of those objectives were met. DRPA execs were scrambling (some were canned), a few reforms were instituted (though mostly toothless), criminal investigations were launched, and both new governors promised swift and decisive action.
Then it all fell off a cliff.
While we have moved in the right direction, it is not nearly good enough. Quite frankly, this new report will probably accomplish nothing. Sure, there will be press conferences with harsh warnings from Corbett and Christie for the DRPA to shape up, board members will say all the right things, and taxpayer and reform groups will fall for the same empty promises. And you know what will happen?
Therefore, it seems appropriate to take a new position regarding all things DRPA: I am apologizing. In retrospect, I have been wrong these last few years, and it is only fitting to publicly eat crow for those errors. I’m man enough to admit my mistakes.
1) I was wrong to think Tom Corbett would make good on his promise to clean house upon becoming governor (and making himself DRPA chair). Instead, he chose to appoint hacks, lawyers (redundant?), former union officials, large-dollar political contributors, and lobbyists to the board, without so much as one reformer.
2) I was wrong to think Chris Christie would use his office as a bully pulpit to demand the Jersey board members (whom he can’t replace until their terms expire) fire Matheussen, under whose “leadership” the DRPA has become synonymous with “corrupt.” This is a CEO, by the way, who has been working without a contract for years, makes more than either governor, and stands to pocket a six-figure sum of toll-payer money in accumulated sick/vacation days when he finally leaves. Yet he remains because there has been no political will to remove him.
3) I was wrong to think other media outlets (except FOX 29) would jump on board, exposing the DRPA for what it really is. And I was wrong to assume they were capable of doing so in the first place, despite time and again giving them an exact roadmap for investigative articles.
4) I was wrong to think the Philadelphia Inquirer—both under former publisher Brian Tierney’s failed leadership and the current sell-out ownership—would cover the DRPA as a media watchdog should. Could such inaction have been caused by Tierney begging Rendell for a taxpayer bailout of the paper? And let’s not forget that, while Rendell was in power, the acting board chairman was John Estey of Ballard Spahr, and Rendell’s former chief of staff and a major Rendell fundraiser. So obviously, I was wrong to even consider the possibility that the paper could objectively cover the matter.
5) I was wrong to expect that more than $35 million in “economic development” money—codespeak for political slush funds used for everything under the sun except the bridges—would be spent on the long-overdue re-decking of the Walt Whitman bridge, or to offset yet another toll increase, or to pay down some of the DRPA’s enormous debt.