Spin Cycle

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Scandal turns P.A. police union 'politically toxic,' insiders say

Heading into this new election season, a union that regularly contributes to political campaigns suddenly finds itself swamped in the New Jersey-based scandal over those now-infamous George Washington Bridge lane closings.

The political implications of this span the Hudson River. In New York, the union, the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association, donated tens of thousands of dollars since 2010 to all statewide incumbents, with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo the top recipient, and backed state lawmakers of both major parties.

In light of the bridge scandal vexing allies and ex-associates of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, some insiders, who declined to be identified, called the organization "politically toxic."

But a key question, still to be answered, is whether political fundraisers and candidates will also see it that way.

As widely reported, Paul Nunziato, the PBA's president, informed his 1,500 or so members two weeks ago he was recusing himself from day-to-day duties while federal and state probes continue. Nunziato was by all recent accounts close to David Wildstein, the Port Authority official who quit in December after it came out that he ordered the traffic-snarling lane closings.

While officials late last year were falsely calling this commuter sabotage a "traffic study," Nunziato voiced no denial of repeated officials' reports that he suggested this study to Wildstein. Nunziato, 51, has been interviewed and subpoenaed by investigators since the "study" cover story fell apart.

Today the NYT also focuses on the union's role in the probe.

The bistate Port Authority, which runs all the trans-Hudson crossings and the airports in Queens and Newark, is by charter jointly controlled by Christie and Cuomo, raising a range of governmental issues.

Over the weekend, New Jersey news outlets reported that some of the same crew involved in the lane closures also staged the 2011 proposal of a huge toll hike on the crossings -- so the governors could reduce it.

When the New York Public Interest Research Group on Jan. 16 released a report on Cuomo's fundraising, it listed 242 contributors this election cycle that donated aggregate totals of $40,000 or more -- including $60,000 from the Port Authority PBA's New York State political action committee. Combined contributions on this list totaled $15.5 million.

One Cuomo ally noted the union's contributions add up to a minuscule portion of his campaign fund.

Other recipients of the PBA's largesse included Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos, members of the Senate's Independent Democratic Conference, and several Assembly members.

The union seems to derive most of its clout on the New Jersey side where it is headquartered. Christie, for one thing, pushed expansion of the PA police staff and vowed to put the Port Authority police in charge of security at the new 1 World Trade Center, also in the PA's bistate domain.

Messages left Tuesday for Port Authority PBA officials were unreturned.

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