Attorneys Tapped For Top Leadership Posts At Port Authority

August 2, 2017

Law360, Clifton, N.J. (August 1, 2017, 2:39 PM EDT) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that two lawyers will assume the top leadership posts at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, tapping their respective appointees to steer the transportation agency's efforts amid major infrastructure projects in the region.

Kevin O'Toole, managing partner of O’Toole Scrivo, LLC and a former New Jersey state senator, has been appointed chairman of the agency's board of commissioners, and Rick Cotton, Cuomo’s special counsel for interagency initiatives, has been named executive director of the Port Authority, the governors announced in a statement.

O'Toole, a Christie appointee, and Cotton, a Cuomo appointee, are replacing John J. Degnan and Patrick J. Foye, respectively. O’Toole and Cotton are expected to assume their positions following the next board meeting, the statement read.

The new appointments come as the Port Authority is facing an array of projects, including a new Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan; major redevelopment projects at La Guardia, Newark Liberty International and John F. Kennedy International airports; and a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, part of the so-called Gateway Program.

The governors cited some of those projects Tuesday in saying that O'Toole and Cotton were the right choices to lead the agency.

“I can think of no one better than Kevin O'Toole to assume the Port Authority chairmanship at this point, with New Jersey and New York moving forward with the most important project in generations to impact commuters and the economy in the Northeast Corridor, the Gateway Program,” Christie said.

“Kevin is the right person at the right time,” the governor added.

Cuomo said of Cotton, “With major infrastructure projects across the region underway, including the new JFK and La Guardia airports, the Port Authority has unprecedented momentum, and Rick Cotton has the experience and tenacity to continue moving these transformative projects ahead and lead the organization into the future.”

“I thank Rick for his exceptional work in the Executive Chamber and look forward to continuing to work closely with him in this new position,” Cuomo added.

Christie and Cuomo also have directed that one of the first priorities for O'Toole and Cotton be resuming the search for the agency's first chief executive officer, according to the statement.

Creating a single CEO position to replace the office of the executive director and deputy executive director was one of the recommendations made in December 2014 by the Special Panel on the Future of the Port Authority. In June, Degnan said the CEO search hadn't yielded a candidate who was acceptable to both governors, according to news reports.

Along with the CEO recommendation, the panel also recommended either that the board chair and vice chair positions be replaced with two co-chairs, one recommended by each governor, for election by the board, or that the chairmanship be rotated between the two states on an annual basis.

In setting up the panel in May 2014, the governors indicated in a letter that it was needed in part due to “recent events relating to the George Washington Bridge,” an apparent reference to the 2013 lane-closing scandal that ultimately led to the convictions of two former Port Authority officials and a onetime aide to Christie. The governors have endorsed the panel's recommendations.

Tuesday's announcement comes about a month since O'Toole became a Port Authority commissioner after stepping down from the state Senate. Between his time in the state Assembly and the Senate, O'Toole served more than two decades in the Legislature.

O’Toole Scrivo, LLC — which includes Thomas P. Scrivo, former chief counsel to Christie, as a name partner — represents a newly rechristened law firm originally started in 2008 by O'Toole and Juan Fernandez. O'Toole's law practice includes toxic tort, environmental law, risk management, class actions, complex litigation and corporate investigations, according to his biography on the Port Authority website.

As Cuomo's special counsel for interagency initiatives since January 2015, Cotton has overseen most of Cuomo's major downstate infrastructure priorities, including La Guardia and JFK airports, the new Tappan Zee Bridge and the expansion of the Javits Center, according to the governors' statement.

Cotton joined the Cuomo administration after spending 25 years at NBC Universal, including 20 years as executive vice president and general counsel, the statement read. He also previously served as executive secretary to the department at the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare under Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. and special assistant for renewable energy to Deputy Secretary of Energy John Sawhill at the U.S. Department of Energy, according to the statement.

In their statement on Tuesday, Christie and Cuomo also praised Degnan and Foye for their service to the Port Authority.

Christie said, “John Degnan’s leadership at the Port Authority will be remembered as a period when transparency and public access were greatly enhanced, and the agency recommitted itself to a core mission of transportation infrastructure. In thanking him for his extraordinary service, I also want to recognize his many years of dedication to public service in New Jersey over the past four decades and to wish him well in his next pursuit.”

“Pat Foye has done an exceptional job serving the Port Authority with bold leadership and a tireless commitment to bettering the transportation infrastructure of New York and New Jersey, and I wish him the very best,” Cuomo said.

One of the most high-profile aspects of Foye's tenure was stopping the lane reductions at the center of the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal.

Federal prosecutors have said William E. Baroni Jr., a former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, and Bridget Anne Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff to Christie, conspired with former Port Authority executive David Wildstein to reduce local access lanes to the bridge from three to one during a week in September 2013 as retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for refusing to endorse Christie, a Republican, for reelection that fall.

On the witness stand last September at the trial of Baroni and Kelly, Foye testified that, after learning about the closures through a media inquiry the day before and discussing the matter with staff members, he directed them in a Sept. 13, 2013, email to eliminate the lane reductions that had mired the borough in gridlock over the preceding four days.

“I thought that what was happening was a public safety disaster,” Foye said.

By Bill Wichert
--Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

About O’Toole Scrivo, LLC
We are a carefully crafted mid-sized law firm of recognized subject matter experts practicing primarily in New York and New Jersey. We combine large-firm expertise with small-firm attention to client needs, representing businesses, insurance companies, and government entities. We are committed to delivering creative and timely results for the most high-profile and complex matters.