In Memory of
Ernesto L. Butcher
Born August 9, 1944 -
Retired April 13, 2012 - Died
May 15, 2014
Ernesto Leonardo Butcher
Ernesto Butcher, Port Authority official who oversaw
9/11 response, dies
May 16, 2014
Ernesto Butcher, who ran the Port Authority of New York
and New Jersey in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, died
Thursday in Maplewood. He was 69.
the time of the attacks, Butcher was chief operating
officer of the bi-state agency that owned the Twin
Towers, having worked his way up through the aviation,
PATH, commerce, and bridges and tunnels divisions.
The agency lost 84 employees that day, including its
Butcher and others established a new command post at
Journal Square in Jersey City. During the next hours and
days, they had to safeguard the region’s bridges,
tunnels, airports and ports, aid in the Ground Zero
rescue effort, find new offices, and provide support to
the grieving families of their lost co-workers.
“Ernesto was the glue that held people together,” said
Rick Larrabee, director of port commerce for the Port
Authority. He and Butcher both evacuated their offices
in 1 World Trade Center and were conferring in the lobby
of the Marriott hotel when the collapse of the other
tower separated them, Larrabee said.
Neither was injured, in part because their section of
the hotel had been strengthened after the 1993 bombing
in the World Trade Center parking garage.
“He’d grown up with the agency,” Larrabee said. “So he
had a total and independent knowledge of the agency, and
what made it work. It was really Ernesto’s leadership
that got us through those first couple of weeks.”
In a resolution passed by the PANYNJ commission at his
retirement two years ago, the agency said that in the
aftermath of the terrorist attack, Butcher “was a beacon
of hope and courage through his steadying presence and
calm demeanor, providing leadership and guidance in the
efforts to recover and rebuild, providing comfort for
the survivors, and becoming in the eyes of staff a
transcendent force, rising above the tragedy and chaos
of that terrible day.”
Butcher was born in Panama, moving to the United States
when he was 16, said his wife, Kristen Peck Butcher.
After graduation from Hunter College, he joined the
Peace Corps and spent two years in Korea. After getting
a masters degree, he went to work as a management
trainee for the Port Authority, and spent his whole
Earlier in his career, he was responsible for
implementing exact-toll lanes at the George Washington
Bridge, transforming the Port Authority Bus Terminal,
which included a homeless outreach program, and
overseeing a safety program for the Tunnels, Bridges and
fitness buff who studied tai chi, Butcher collapsed
while on his daily walk, according to his wife.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter,
Mijha Godfrey, of Atlanta; four stepchildren, Hannah
Goldman, Eliot Goldman, Claire Goldman, and Chisa
Hutchinson; a sister, Aldigh Butcher, and a brother,
funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m. May 23, 2014 at
St. George’s Episcopal Church,
550 Ridgewood Road, Maplewood.
Butcher, Who Managed Port Authority After 9/11, Dies at
MAY 22, 2014
Ernesto Butcher, in 1991, near the George Washington
Bridge. Credit Eddie Hausner/The New York Times
Ernesto Butcher, a
soft-spoken Panamanian immigrant who effectively took
over management of the
Port Authority of New York and New
after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as its most
experienced surviving operations officer, died on May 15
in Maplewood, N.J. He was 69.
suffered a heart attack while jogging near his home, his
wife, Kristen Peck, said in confirming the death.
Among the more
than 2,700 people killed that day at the World Trade
Center, where the authority had its headquarters, 84
were agency employees. One, Neil Levin, the executive
director, was Mr. Butcher’s boss.
operating officer, Mr. Butcher marshaled thousands of
managers and employees scattered throughout the region,
took charge of closing the gateways to the city and
established a temporary headquarters for the agency in
Jersey City on Sept. 11.
Two days later,
while taking phone calls from frantic relatives of 150
authority employees initially reported missing, and with
a go-ahead from the police, Mr. Butcher gave the signal
to reopen the system: resuming operations at Kennedy, La
Guardia and Newark International airports; the George
Washington Bridge; two Hudson River tunnels; the
shipping terminals of Brooklyn, Newark and Jersey City;
and a dozen other facilities run by his agency.
“I’m here today
to assure the people of New York and New Jersey — and
throughout the world — that the Port Authority is open
for business,” he said at a news conference on Sept. 13.
who as Mr. Levin’s deputy was later appointed acting
executive director, ceded operational authority in the
following months to Mr. Butcher.
delivered eulogies at 84 funerals and memorial services
for authority employees. Fearing that exhaustion would
compromise the system, he urged agency employees not to
volunteer in their off hours during the workweek at the
site of the collapsed towers.
who was director of tunnels and bridges at the time,
said in an interview: “My toll collectors were working a
full shift, then going downtown to work on the pile,
working around the clock. Ernesto understood it. But
with him, the public interest always had to come first.
Our job was to keep the system running.”
named chief operating officer in 1999, Mr. Butcher, a
career civil servant at the authority, served under a
dozen board chairmen, executive directors and deputy
executives, all appointed by either the governor of New
York or the governor of New Jersey under a power-sharing
arrangement. But beginning in 2010, he told his family,
political appointees seemed to be pushing him toward the
complained to his boss, Christopher Ward, the
authority’s executive director, that two appointees of
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey — Bill Baroni, the
deputy executive director, and his lieutenant, David
Wildstein — had excluded Mr. Butcher from meetings as
they undertook to trim the agency’s roughly $8 billion
Butcher and Mr. Ward found themselves blamed by
unidentified Port Authority officials, quoted by
newspapers, for cost overruns in the rebuilding of the
World Trade Center, employee overtime expenses, and
hefty 2011 bridge and tunnel toll increases.
Mr. Ward, who
was widely credited with jump-starting development of
the stalled World Trade Center site after being
appointed in 2008, resigned in 2011. Mr. Butcher, who
had planned to retire at the end of 2012, retired
instead in April that year, ending a 41-year career at
“He had nothing
to do with those budgets,” Mr. Ward said in a phone
interview on Tuesday. “It is unconscionable for a man of
Ernesto’s integrity to be forced to end his
distinguished career under a cloud.”
Mr. Baroni and
Mr. Wildstein, both of whom resigned from the Port
Authority last year over their involvement in the
controversy over the George Washington Bridge lane
closings, did not respond to requests for comment.
would not have happened if Ernesto had still been
there,” Mr. Ward said.
Leonardo Butcher was born on Aug. 9, 1944, in Colon,
Panama, a Caribbean seaport near the Panama Canal. His
father, Lorenzo, worked in canal operations. His mother,
Naomi, died when Ernesto was 4.
Soon after his
father remarried, Mr. Butcher was sent to live with
relatives, ending up with an aunt in Brooklyn. He
graduated from Boys High School (now Boys and Girls High
School) in Brooklyn and Hunter College, where he studied
psychology and literature.
with the Peace Corps in South Korea, where he became
fluent in Korean, he received a graduate degree in
international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh.
wife, he is survived by a daughter, Mijha Butcher
Godfrey; a granddaughter; and three stepchildren.
chief operating officer, Mr. Butcher was manager of the
George Washington Bridge, director of bridges and
tunnels, and head of several other departments. The
introduction of E-ZPass, electronic highway signage,
light rail AirTrains to J.F.K. and Newark airports, and
the decade-long stripping and repainting of the George
Washington Bridge happened on his watch.
Butcher was manager of the Port Authority bus terminal
in the mid-1980s, he rid it of drug addicts and
prostitutes by persuading state officials to send him
social workers; they helped place most of the bus
terminal’s vagrant population in rehabilitation programs
and halfway houses.
“We wanted to
provide an alternative, not compound the problem,” he
THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK & NEW JERSEY
PORT AUTHORITY NEWS BULLETIN
Office of the Executive Director
May 16, 2014
This morning, Deb and I learned the sad news that
Ernesto Butcher passed away yesterday. Ernesto retired
from the agency as Chief Operating Officer in 2012,
after a distinguished 41-year career. He was highly
regarded by all who worked with him and recognized for
his dedicated, courageous, and compassionate leadership
– particularly in the days after September 11.
Many of you are aware of Ernesto’s tireless work to
ensure that the Port Authority’s facilities remained
secure and fully operational in the hours following the
attacks. He was also instrumental in coordinating with
local, state, and federal agencies to assist in the
rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero, as well as
accounting for the agency’s survivors and missing and
providing assistance to family members.
In 2003, Ernesto was recognized before the New Jersey
State Assembly for his outstanding achievements and
contributions to the community. At the ceremony, former
Port Authority Chairman Jack G. Sinagra described his
impact on the agency in this way: "Ernesto Butcher’s
courage and quiet strength were one of the keys to the
Port Authority’s recovery in the days and weeks
following September 11. His excellent judgment helped
guide the agency as it sought to restore critical
transportation services to the region, while ensuring
safety and security. Ernesto is a true leader, and this
honor is a fitting tribute to one of the unsung heroes
of our region’s darkest hour.”
Prior to being named COO, Ernesto held a number of
positions in the Tunnels, Bridges & Terminals
Department, including Manager of the George Washington
Bridge, Manager of the Port Authority Bus Terminal,
Deputy Director of the Interstate Transportation
Department, and Director, TB&T. He was a long-standing
member of the Port Authority Ethics Board, and was known
for the encouragement and sound career guidance he
provided to agency staff. Ernesto was also a recipient
of the Howard S. Cullman Distinguished Service Medal,
the highest award for service given by the Board to a
Port Authority employee.
A funeral service will be held on Friday, May 23, 2014 at
10:00 a.m. at
St. George’s Episcopal Church,
550 Ridgewood Road, Maplewood, NJ. Following the
service, all are invited to attend a community gathering
at the Butcher home, in Maplewood.
We ask that you keep Ernesto’s family in your thoughts.
// Original Signed By //
Patrick J. Foye