A changing of the guard occurred this week at the scandal-plagued Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), as Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett appointed himself the new Chairman, and replaced five Board Commissioners.
The law-and-order Corbett has pledged to clean up the Authority through openness and transparency, vowing to oversee an entity free of the conflicts that plagued the prior Board. But his appointments have left many wondering if anything has really changed.
As Chairman, the Governor sets the DRPA agenda, and he deserves the benefit of the doubt that he will live up to his promises. That said, a look the new Commissioners reveals that none are known as reformers or good-government advocates, and, in fact, raises new questions, such as whether the companies of Board members will be eligible to receive DRPA contracts.
Cumulatively, the backgrounds of the six new Board Commissioners feature four lawyers (including one who works for the same firm as Montgomery County GOP Chairman Bob Kerns and State Senate Transportation Chairman John Rafferty), a real estate executive, a former union vice president, an official from the scandal-plagued Street Administration, large dollar campaign donors to Corbett, a prominent GOP fundraiser, and former officials of a number of Philadelphia’s not-so-respected entities: the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and the Seaport Museum (which played a major role in the corruption trial of convicted ex-senator Vince Fumo).
That type of "experience" makes it understandable why the public’s reaction has not been glowing following the announcement of the new Board.
The new Pennsylvania appointees to the board:
-William Sasso, board chairman at Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young law firm in Philadelphia. Sasso is a prominent Republican fund-raiser and was a co-chair of Corbett’s transition team. The Stadley firm contributed $173,000 to Corbett. As an individual, Sasso donated $22,000 to Corbett’s Attorney General and gubernatorial campaigns.
-Joanna Cruz, an attorney with Kerns, Pearlstine, Onorato & Hladik, the firm of Montgomery County GOP boss Bob Kerns and State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty. Kerns contributed $7,500 to Corbett.
-Joann Bell, executive at Pugliese Associates, a lobbying and government relations firm. Former special-projects manager for the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation and former vice president of AFSCME District Council No. 47. She was an economic-development coordinator in former Mayor John F. Street’s Administration. The Pugliese political action committee contributed $1,500 to Corbett.
-Walter D’Alessio, vice chairman of a real estate investment banking firm, and senior managing director of a real estate consulting group. A former chairman of the board of the Independence Seaport Museum, and former executive director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. He served on Corbett’s transition team and donated $2,500 to the Governor.
-David Simon, senior vice president and general counsel for Jefferson Health System in Philadelphia. Former general counsel to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department. He contributed $29,500 to Corbett’s campaigns and served on the Governor’s transition team.
On a similar note, Corbett appointed attorney Charles Kopp to serve as chairman of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority. Lawyers at Kopp’s firm, Cozen O’Connor, donated nearly $150,000 to the Governor’s campaigns.
Despite changes to the DRPA over the last year, conflicts and corruption still exist. Time will tell whether the Port Authority can earn back the public’s trust, but if a serious effort isn’t made by Governors Corbett and Christie to clean house, fire embattled CEO John Matheussen, and stop the 20 percent toll increase slated for July, that may just be… a bridge too far.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com