New York sues New Jersey over efforts to shutter Waterfront Commission

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New York State has reportedly sued New Jersey in the United States Supreme Court over the New Jersey’s efforts to shutter mob-busting Waterfront Commission.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has since December worked to pull his state out of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, a bistate agency founded in 1953 that has cracked down on organized crime and unfair hiring practices at the seaports. Murphy’s office has said he’ll withdraw the state from the commission on March 28 and turn over the agency’s responsibilities to the New Jersey State Police.

Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James launched the eleventh-hour suit to save the Waterfront Commission, saying in a filing that New Jersey’s plan “will open the door to organized crime members and other criminal enterprises infiltrating the port and controlling its operations.”

“Although the commission has achieved many successes, its work is not finished,” the suit states. “The commission’s continued operation is essential because corruption, racketeering and unfair employment practices are still found at the port.”

The suit was filed directly with the Supreme Court because it pits two states against each other. New York officials want the court to issue an order blocking New Jersey from withdrawing from the commission until the case is heard.

The filing comes one day after a front-page exclusive in the Daily News revealing that more than 200 longshoremen at New York and New Jersey’s seaports rake in at least $400,000 a year. The sky-high salaries are made possible through a collective bargaining agreement between the International Longshoremen’s Association and the New York Shipping Association that grants some workers “special deals” allowing them to file for 27 hours of work each day, seven days a week.

Law enforcement sources said a majority of the longshoremen who get the special deals are connected to organized crime families or high-ranking ILA officials. Some of the connected workers include Ralph Gigante, Jr., the nephew of late Genovese family boss Vinny “The Chin” Gigante.

“Protecting the safety of New Yorkers and our vital industries is my top priority, and we cannot afford to lose the Waterfront Commission’s unique authority and expertise in combatting crime at our port,” Hochul said in a statement. “In light of current geopolitical uncertainty, the termination of the Waterfront Commission would cause immediate and irreparable harm to New York State, from increased crime to higher prices to employment inequities. It is our responsibility to New Yorkers to stop New Jersey’s unlawful actions and preserve the ongoing work of this law enforcement agency.”

A spokesman for Murphy said the state will vigorously defend the suit, adding that the Waterfront Commission “has long outlived its usefulness and does not fairly represent New Jersey’s interests.”

“We are hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will reject this last-ditch and last-minute effort to prevent the New Jersey State Police from assuming enforcement authority at the Port on March 28,” he said.

New York’s suit is the latest chapter in a yearslong fight over the fate of the waterfront watchdog.

The New Jersey legislature in 2017 passed a bill mandating the state withdraw from the commission and turn over policing of the seaports — the majority of which are in New Jersey waters — to the New Jersey State Police. Former Gov. Chris Christie signed the bill into law in 2018 on his last day in office, prompting a lawsuit from the Waterfront Commission that argued the state couldn’t pull out without approval from lawmakers in New York.

The suit was shot down in 2020 by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that only New York could sue over the dispute. The Supreme Court last year declined to take up the Waterfront Commission’s case, but also found New York could sue — paving the way for Monday’s lawsuit.

Waterfront Commission Executive Director Walter Arsenault said he was “very pleased” with New York’s legal challenge.

“The commission’s mission to combat corruption and ensure fair hiring in the Port is critical now more than ever, and despite unprecedented challenges we remain undeterred in our work,” Arsenault said.

The last time New York and New Jersey met in the Supreme Court was in 1997, when New Jersey sued over tax revenues from Ellis Island. The court in 1998 ruled a majority of the island’s land belonged to New Jersey.

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