BY TOM HESTER SR.
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) called Port Authority Deputy Director Bill Baroni to Washington Wednesday to discuss the bi-state agency’s decision to raise tunnel and bridge tolls last year and Gov. Chris Christie’s Republican appointee came prepared.
Baroni pointed out at the hearing that as a former Port Authority commissioner, Lautenberg has held on to a perk that has allowed him to use the tunnels and bridges 284 times without paying a toll.
"Senator, it is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don't pay them," Baroni said.
At a Statehouse press conference on Thursday, Christie told reporters he is “absolutely thrilled Bill Baroni went down there defended himself, and did allow himself to be a victim of another one of Frank Lautenberg’s thuggish political shows.”
Rather than working together for New Jersey, Christie and Lautenberg dislike each other and don’t speak. Christie has called the senator names in the past. Lautenberg recently accused the Port Authority of helping the governor make his case for killing the Hudson River commuter rail tunnel in 2010. The governor and Port Authority officials deny the charge.
Christie said Lautenberg is "an embarrassment to the state and the U.S. Senate " for failing to pay bridge and tunnel tolls. "Frank Lautenberg got his hand caught in the cookie jar," the governor said.
"He fed at the trough for 24 years," Christie said of Lautenberg. "A multi-millionaire who brags about how rich he is, couldn't go into his pocket to pay for tolls? Couldn't go into his pocket to pay for parking at Port Authority facilities? And that is the guy who is going to a paragon of virtue — who is going to judge the Port Authority?"
Lautenberg responded with a statement.
"There he goes again — the name-calling governor," the senator said. "Just like the Rutgers-Rowan controversy, the governor is so afraid of answering legitimate questions that he resorts to distractions and juvenile name-calling. These desperate tactics by the governor and the Port Authority clearly show that they are working to cover up something about the toll increases."
Lautenberg was referring to his opposition to a Rowan University takeover of Rutgers Camden, which the governor has proposed. Lautenberg has asked U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to examine the proposed merger.
"As a war veteran, I've gone up against much larger foes than Chris Christie, so I won't be deterred from fighting on behalf of everyday people in New Jersey," Lautenberg said.
Christie’s office did not immediately respond when asked if Christie and his State Police entourage pay tolls when crossing the Hudson or Delaware rivers.