The Port Authority of New York and Jersey named Kevin O'Toole and Rick Cotton to senior positions, as the overseer of much of the area's transportation infrastructure looks to restart its search for a chief executive officer.
O'Toole has been appointed as chairman of the Board of Commissioners while Cotton has been named as its executive director, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie jointly announced on Tuesday.
They will start their new jobs after the next meeting of the Board of Commissioners. One of their first priorities will be to restart the search for a new CEO, according to the governors, who jointly appoint the top leadership to the bi-state authority. Port Authority started the search after December 2014, when a special panel recommended replacing the executive director post with a CEO.
Executive Director Patrick Foye has served on an interim basis over the past several years while the authority has tried and failed to find a permanent CEO — part of the reform efforts after the Bridgegate scandal. A dual power structure has been blamed for letting New Jersey politicians close lanes at the George Washington Bridge without New York’s knowledge.
The governors committed to replace that structure with a single CEO and a rotating chairman. But they’ve been unable to agree on a CEO candidate.
Politico New Jersey reported last month that Cuomo would not let his appointee Foye leave until Chairman John Degnan did, because Christie-appointee Degnan supported a building a new bus terminal on Manhattan’s West Side. Cuomo opposes the plan.
The New Jersey State Legislature didn’t want Degnan to leave until Foye did, because they considered him to be their best hope for a new bus terminal.
Foye, 60, has been mentioned as possibly taking on a leadership role at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Cuomo returned former MTA chairman Joe Lhota to his old job in June and Ronnie Hakim has been serving as acting executive director.
Degnan, 72, was elected chairman of the Port’s Board of Commissioners in 2014.
In announcing the appointments Tuesday, both governors thanked Foye and Degnan for their leadership during their service at the Authority.
“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 in a press release.
"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,” Christie said in the release.
New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Legislative Oversight Committee Chair Bob Gordon praised Degnan’s leadership and endorsed the selection of O’Toole to replace him.
O'Toole is a managing partner of O'Toole Scrivo Fernandez Weiner Van Lieu LLC and was formerly a New Jersey lawmaker. During his career as a state Senator he was instrumental in the passage of Transportation Trust Fund legislation that provided long-term sustainability for the state's transportation infrastructure. He received a B.A. and J.D. from Seton Hall University.
“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. Kevin is the right person at the right time,” Christie said.
Since 2015, Cotton has been Cuomo's special counsel for interagency initiatives, overseeing most downstate infrastructure projects, including the LaGuardia and JFK Airports, the Penn-Farley Complex, the new Tappan Zee Bridge and the expansion of the Javits Center. Previously, he was at NBC Universal and also served as executive secretary to the Department at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare under Secretary Joseph Califano, Jr. and as Special Assistant for Renewable Energy to Deputy Secretary of Energy John Sawhill at the Department of Energy. He received an A.B. from Harvard College and a J.D. from Yale Law School, and served as a law clerk to Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. on the U.S. Supreme Court.
"With major infrastructure projects across the region underway, including the new JFK and LaGuardia 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,” Cuomo said. “I thank Rick for his exceptional work in my office and look forward to continuing to work closely with him in this new position.”