A Walk on the Shady Side of the River
That paragon of moral rectitude and purity, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, is like a piñata. You give it a whack and out spills details of shady deals and a bi-state governor, usually looking a lot like Chris Christie. You don’t even have to give it a whack, as the latest revelations ooze out about friends of the governor being hired to represent the PA at the law firm of Dughi, Hewit & Domalewski which had never done work for the Port Authority (worth at least $6.2 million, according to The Record of Hackensack) until Christie became the governor in 2010. But, hey, what are friends for?
The litigation Dughi & Hewit was hired to handle arising out of the Port Authority purchase of waterfront property in Bayonne—a 131-acre tract of land for $235 million—could be smelled all the way to Piscataway and wherever else gather admirers of ingenious ways of abusing power on the shady side of the Hudson River.
As you might not know, Bayonne is famous for being the home of the Maidenform Bra Company, which played a major role in early TV advertising history, with its series of “I Dreamed that I Went… In My Maidenform Bra” with an illustration of the person wearing only underwear and a smile in a public place, appearing proud and cheerful. As far as I recall, nobody ever boasted in an ad about wearing her Maidenform in Bayonne.
At the time, Bayonne citizens were famous for going to Palisades Park, beating up random people and dropping them into roller coasters for an unexpected ride. They weren’t considered hoodlums, I am told by the Bard of Bayonne (he uses a nom de pen, for fear of retribution), only the salt of the earth.
Bayonne also played a major role in presidential politics, being the home of the ELCO PT boat company that made the PT-109 that Jack Kennedy fell out of and was useful during the 1960 campaign.
It was famous as the birthplace of Sandra Dee (of “Gidget” fame); Herman Kahn, the cold war warrior; Frank Langella; Samuel D. Newhouse Sr., the media mogul; Shaquille O’Neill; Congressman Barney frank, and Chuck Wepner, the hard luck boxer known as “the Bayonne Bleeder.” And not to be forgotten Johnny Digillo, the legendary murderer and Mafia Don, who beat the FBI by pleading that he was too stupid to commit the alleged crimes. A brilliant legal defense that I believe is studied to this day at the University of Chicago Law School.
Culturally, Bayonne was often mentioned by Ralph Kramden in “The Honeymooners.” According to an episode of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” parodying Sarah Palin’s reality TV series about her Alaska with a trailer for a fictional show called “Jason Jones’ Bayonne, New Jersey,” the city also was famous for prostitution, drugs, crime, pollution and its stereotypical Italian-American population. Typical smart-ass exaggeration from those who treat everything between Manhattan and LA as fly-over country.
What it is most famous for these days, however, is its twin peninsulas.
There are few double peninsulas in this world, geography scholars will tell you. Especially rare are peninsulas made up mostly of garbage.
The property the PA bought from the city fathers of Bayonne in this real estate coup, which was widely hailed by PA publicists as a possible deal of the century, is highly toxic. On a clear day, riding the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail special from Hoboken to “the Site,” as its called locally, you can see the oozing effluence emerging from the tulip beds.
How this rare piece of property –originally part of a former military installation known as the Military Ocean Terminal, an artificial piece of land created in the 1930’s out of Upper New York B dredged silt—slipped though the city of Bayonne’s hands and became part of Gov. Christie’s fiscal magic show still dazzles civic improvement fans like myself.
Bayonne was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2010. By law that meant the state was required to take over the city’s fiscal affairs, requiring a lot of moolah, digging the city out of its fiscal hole.
Christie already was having a tough time performing his magic trick balancing the state budget. Raising taxes would discredit his self-proclaimed reputation as a fiscally prudent governor. So no higher property taxes, gas taxes or taxes on the megamillionaires. We were not invited to read his lips.
The solution to the Bayonne problem was right out of “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.” His “Open Sesame” card was the Port Authority. Somehow, the PA commissioners decided June 2010 they needed the twin peninsulas. At $230 million, according to the New York Times, the PA was over-paying for the land nobody in Bayonne wanted. Bayonne had enough of its own garbage.
As much as I may admire the PA, it is not the shrewdest bargainer. I still remember the $1-a- year lease they renegotiated on a valuable NJ Transit park- and-ride commuter lot in North Bergen, down from $900,000 a year.
Forget his ability to call a budget balanced when it was only $800 million in the red. Forget that he can claim not to be running for President, even though he has been running in place since 2010. The Bayonne peninsula caper was the zinger— absolute poetry, the ultimate in manipulation, the best demonstration yet of the genius of our talented governor.
July 10, 2014