NJ Senate Confirms Gov. Christie Ally for Port Authority Board

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -

A political ally of Republican Gov. Chris Christie whose name came up at the George Washington Bridge lane-closure trial has been confirmed to a spot on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey board.

New Jersey’s Democrat-led state Senate confirmed Republican state Sen. Kevin O’Toole during a marathon voting session Monday. O’Toole was not accused in the scheme, which prosecutors say was aimed at punishing the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie’s re-election. But he had issued a statement critical of the town’s access lanes to the bridge, which the agency oversees.

Former Port Authority official David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty in 2015 to two conspiracy charges, testified in the federal trial that he approached O’Toole to issue a statement supporting Port Authority official Bill Baroni’s 2013 statements to a legislative committee that the lane realignment was a legitimate traffic study.

O’Toole criticized lawmakers’ probe as politically motivated.

Wildstein testified that the traffic-study story was a lie to cover up retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.

Baroni and former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly were convicted on all charges last November and face sentencing this month.

O’Toole fills a vacancy at the Port Authority left by former Bergen County Executive William Schuber.

O’Toole, who represents parts of Bergen, Essex, Morris and Passaic counties, has served in the Legislature for 22 years and has been a close ally of the governor. He announced earlier his plans not to see re-election this year.

He served on the leadership team of Christie’s failed presidential campaign and defended him against a Democrat-led committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal.

In December 2014, O’Toole and other Republicans released a scathing report on the investigation, arguing it was overtly political.

The Senate on Monday also confirmed Democrat and lobbyist Caren Turner to a spot on the Port Authority board.