A look at the power, money and politics behind building the Freedom Tower that has delayed its completion:
The PA is run by a board of twelve unpaid commissioners, six appointed by New York’s governor, six by New Jersey’s. Traditionally, the board chair is a New Jersey commissioner, and the executive director — effectively the Port’s CEO — is selected by the governor of New York. In theory, the idea — a product of the Progressive Era of American politics — was to create a quasi-governmental corporation, self-supporting, free of corruption, and insulated from partisanship.
In practice, the PA has yielded to the surrounding political culture. From 1942 until 1971, the PA’s executive director was Austin Tobin, the strongman who built the World Trade Center. More powerful than any elected official, Tobin used the PA’s power of eminent domain to seize those sixteen acres and erect the Twin Towers, the world’s two tallest buildings when they were completed in 1973, steamrolling the city’s private real estate developers, who found it unsporting that a regional transportation agency would flood New York with more than ten million square feet of office space for lease.
Austin Tobin answered only to himself, and his PA was a monolith, omnipotent, opaque. The opacity alone remains; the Port Authority these days is little more than a punching bag, patronage pit, and piggy bank for politicians and those who own or are owned by them. Its stewardship of Ground Zero — in substance and as symbol — has been a bumbling puppet show and an obscene gold rush.