By Keith Laing - 03/28/14 03:45 PM EDT
David Samson, the chairman of the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, has resigned in the wake of a scandal involving lanes being closed on the busiest bridge in the United States.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has been under fire for months since it was revealed that high-ranking officials in his administration were involved in a decision last year to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., by closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey and New York.
But Christie said Samson was stepping down now to give the Port Authority a chance to have a fresh start. The governor denied Samson was forced out because of the bridge scandal, even as he admitted the hiring of other staffers who were involved in the George Washington Bridge flap had been a “mistake.”
“I received a call from David Samson who informed me that after reviewing the Mastro report, that he completely supports the recommendations laid out for the Port Authority and that he believes the best way to start a new era at the Port Authority is with new leadership,” Christie said. "In line with that belief, David tendered his resignation to me this afternoon effective immediately.”
When pressed on the reasons behind Samson's resignation, Christie said, "He is 74 years old and he is tired" and wants to spend more time with his family.
The beleaguered Port Authority chief said in a statement that was sent to national media outlets on Friday that he had been contemplating resigning for several months.
“Over the past months, I have shared with the governor my desire to conclude my service,” Samson said in his statement. “The timing is now right, and I am confident that the governor will put new leadership in place to address the many challenges ahead."
The scandal over the closure of the George Washington Bridge lanes in September 2013 has threatened Christie’s presumed status as a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Christie has been widely believed to be gearing up for a White House run, but the scandal emerged only months after he won a large reelection victory his advisers hoped would bolster his case for a national bid.
Christie said Friday that the bridge scandal would not affect his thinking about the 2016 presidential race.
"The fact of the matter is that I had nothing to do with this, as I said from the beginning, and this report has supported exactly what I said. And in the long sweep of things, any voters, if they consider this issue at all, in considering my candidacy — if there ever is one at all — I’ve got a feeling it’ll be a small element of it, if any element at all,” Christie said Friday, referring to an internal review his office released the day before.
The George Washington Bridge is the most heavily-traveled bridge in the U.S., carrying more than 100 million vehicles per year between New Jersey and New York City.