Mayor continues attack on Port Authority

By Philip Newman

Giuliani held news conferences almost daily for a week after the Dec. 30 snowstorm to assail the Port Authority,

On Tuesday, Giuliani offered an addendum to his State of the City address Monday, announcing the establishment of what he called an Airport Improvement Corporation to make plans for a private takeover of the New York area's three airports when the Port Authority contract to operate them expires in 2015. In the meantime, Giuliani said, he may file a lawsuit claiming the agency violated its contract.

The Port Authority responded by saying “City Hall's campaign for control of the New York airports has already cost New York taxpayers $275 million and the meter is still running. Once again, City Hall is creating new work for lawyers and consultants instead of offering plans with any substance.”

Any such agency would have to be approved by the City Council.

The Port Authority is a bistate agency run by New York and New Jersey.

As Giuliani attacked the Port Authority in the snowstorm's aftermath, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik called his own news conference to complain of what he said was a rise in crime at the airports and suggested that if the Port Authority Police did not turn their duties over to New York City Police, he might file a lawsuit.

Hardly had the snow stopped falling when Giuliani accused the Port Authority of dragging its feet in clearing snow from the two airports.

The PA, long reluctant even to acknowledge Giuliani's attacks, this time replied to both accusations.

Port Authority chief Robert Boyle said the runways were cleared as quickly as possible and suggested that the mayor “obviously has an agenda and that agenda may be to take over the airports. I think that's a foolish agenda.”

Giuliani has ridiculed the Port Authority for years as a collection of inefficient bureaucrats accountable to nobody and unfit to manage LaGuardia and Kennedy. His administration has been negotiating with a British company to privatize Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports when the Port Authority's contract expires in 2015.

Giuliani as well as Queens officials have complained that the PA has put more money into developing Newark airport than the Queens air terminals.

“They did a terrible job,” Giuliani said of the Port Authority's snow-clearing operation at the airports, suggesting the agency worsened delays at airports already overburdened by holiday traffic.

At one point, the mayor suggested the Port Authority reminded him of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

“What was that news agency? – Tass,” Giuliani said, speaking in a mock Russian accent as though mouthing a doctrinaire party line, he proclaimed: “There is no snow.”

“Once again, the mayor is shooting from the hip and running to the media,” said Boyle. “The facts clearly speak for themselves. The Port Authority did a very professional job and no one could have done it better.”

Boyle said neither airlines nor the Federal Aviation Administration complained of slow snow removal and that the airports were open by 6 p.m. the day of the storm.

At one news conference, Giuliani produced a copy of an e-mail message in which a Delta Air Lines official agreed with his complaints about the Port Authority. But top Delta management said the message did not reflect the airline's sentiments.

Boyle said the Delta official whose e-mail was disavowed by Delta higher-ups was not at the airport the day of the snowstorm.

The Port Authority also defended itself against Kerik's contention crime was increasing at the airports.

Port Authority Police Superintendent Fred Morrone said Kerik's “account concerning crime at New York airports is inaccurate and misleading. It is based on New York City Police Department data that is incomplete, outdated, incorrectly portrayed or flat-out wrong.”

He said crime at LaGuardia was down 6 percent and up 5 percent at Kennedy.

“Much is made of an alleged jump in car thefts,” Morrone said of the Kerik report. “These numbers reflect nothing more than in increase in the number of rental cars that are not returned to airport rental car companies. They were not cars stolen off airport parking lots. Nevertheless, we are investigating this problem.”

Giuliani also exhibited photos he said he took from a helicopter the Sunday following the snowstorm and showing no snow plows at work.

“Let me say that photographs released referring to conditions at the airport do not show what they are purported to show,” said Boyle. “They do not show aeronautical areas needed for full operation of the airport – among others, they show the roof of Terminal 4 and its ramp that is under construction, they show the Delta rooftop parking lot that we plowed and normal queues of aircraft waiting to take off.”

Boyle said Kerik's comments were curious since only three weeks before he had met with Kerik, who at that time praised the performance of the Port Authority Police.

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), whose congressional district includes Kennedy Airport, disagreed with the mayor's criticism of the Port Authority's snow removal.

“Regrettably, Mayor Giuliani used the storm to advance his unilateral agenda to privatize New York's airports,” Meeks said.

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