Mob-busting Waterfront Commission to continue on NYC side of New York Harbor, without New Jersey’s involvement
New York plans to continue the mob-fighting Waterfront Commission without New Jersey’s direct involvement — and will keep on some of its top staffers to manage the agency, the Daily News has learned.
A little-noticed provision in the newly passed state budget allows the commission to carry on its work on the New York side of the New York Harbor.
The new New York Waterfront Commission will drop the New Jersey side of the harbor from its purview as a result of the Garden State’s withdrawal from from the formerly bi-state agency — a decision the US Supreme Court backed in a ruling in April.
Paul Weinstein, the New York commissioner of the bi-state agency, said in a letter to commission staff on Thursday that he would take the reins of the new Waterfront Commission in an acting capacity, and he urged his colleagues to come with him.
“New York State knows that the success of the NYWC is wholly dependent on retaining the talent and expertise of the current Waterfront Commission staff,” said the letter obtained by The News.
“I am pleased to announce that [Waterfront Commission general counsel] Phoebe Sorial has agreed to serve as executive director and general counsel and [Waterfront Commission comptroller] Adam Cheung has agreed to serve as comptroller of the NYWC,” he continued.
Weinstein’s letter to commission employees asks them to re-submit their resumes to the state of New York if they wish to stay on.
“Over the past 70 years, New York Harbor has become safer, fairer, and more prosperous thanks to the important and hard work of the Waterfront Commission,” he wrote.
Weinstein said he will be leading the new body in an acting capacity, “until such time as the Governor nominates and the State Senate confirms a permanent commissioner.”
“Establishing the NYWC will be challenging but I am excited by the opportunity to continue this work and to build a new office, worthy of the Waterfront Commission’s historical achievements,” Weinstein wrote. “I hope that you will consider joining us.”
Weinstein said the new agency will not require employees to be New York residents.
Some 90% of the activity in New York Harbor takes place in New Jersey. But given that longshoremen also work the docks in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and Howland Hook on Staten Island, the majority of Waterfront Commission investigations and intelligence gathering operations cross jurisdictions between the two states.
It remained unclear Thursday what ongoing investigations, if any, the newly formed New York Waterfront Commission would take up.
“New York is committed to maintaining a sworn police force for the NYWC and is currently assessing options to sustain law enforcement positions and functions,” Weinstein wrote.
The state budget section establishing the new agency provides for New York “to cooperate with a similar entity established in the state of New Jersey to exchange information on any matter” related to the agency’s work.
The budget sets up the new agency only through June 30, 2024. But, Weinstein told employees, “New York State is committed to a permanent entity.”
The original bi-state Waterfront Commission was created in 1953 to fight organized crime racketeering and unfair hiring at the port of New York and New Jersey.
The bi-state body licensed companies and workers operating in the port and oversaw the daily hiring process for longshoremen.
The commission was created in part to put an end to the so-called “shape-up,” in which longshoremen were hired on the basis of their willingness to kick back money to the mob in return for work.
Recently, the commission, which also runs undercover and intelligence gathering operations at the port, found hundreds of longshoremen raking in upwards of $400,000 per year by way of “special deals” that let them put in for up to 27 hours of work a day, seven days a week.
But New Jersey elected officials maintained the commission hurt hiring at the port and had outlived its usefulness.
In 2018, then-N.J. Gov. Chris Christie — on his last day in office — signed a law pulling out of the commission. A legal battle ensued, with the US Supreme Court ruling in April that New Jersey could unilaterally disband the commission.
Since then, the commission has been operating under a shadow of uncertainty, without knowing the fate of its active investigations into alleged corruption at the port, sources told The News.
Under New Jersey law, the anti-organized-crime work of the commission will be handed off to the New Jersey State Police.
Neither spokespeople for N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy nor for the New Jersey State Police immediately responded on Thursday to questions about when and how the state police would take up its new law enforcement role on the New Jersey side of the harbor.