DRPA hires 'crisis communications' consultant

David La Torre, La Torre Communications president.
David La Torre, La Torre Communications president.
Posted: July 04, 2014

The Delaware River Port Authority, beset by unwelcome publicity, is hiring a veteran Harrisburg public-affairs consultant to improve its image.

David La Torre, president of La Torre Communications, will be paid $7,500 a month for at least two months to advise the DRPA on public and press relations.

La Torre, a specialist in "crisis communications," was a spokesman for Republican Pennsylvania Govs. Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker before he established his own public relations firm.

Among his clients are Pennsylvania State University, casinos, resorts, law-enforcement organizations, and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

La Torre has contributed $15,100 to the political campaigns of Republican Gov. Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, election-finance records show.

Cawley is chairman of the DRPA, a post formerly held by Corbett. Cawley reportedly was instrumental in the selection of La Torre for the DRPA job.

La Torre has also contributed $3,500 to Democrat Eugene DePasquale, who is now auditor general of Pennsylvania and a member of the DRPA board.

The bi-state DRPA, which operates four toll bridges and the PATCO commuter rail line between Philadelphia and South Jersey, in May began a search for a public-relations firm after the authority's communications chief, Tim Ireland, resigned.

That hunt continues, and La Torre will fill the PR void until the public-bid process is completed for an agency to provide communications help for one year, DRPA officials said.

"I look forward to working with the DRPA during this important transition period," La Torre said Wednesday.

The DRPA has been in an unwelcome spotlight because of a criminal investigation, commuter woes, and equipment problems.

For more than a year, the U.S. Attorney's Office has been investigating the DRPA's spending of nearly $500 million on politically connected economic development projects.

Last week, The Inquirer reported that the DRPA discovered that some internal e-mails were missing that were required to be preserved as part of that investigation.

Commuters are unhappy with DRPA because a two-year, $103 million construction project on the Ben Franklin Bridge has resulted in overcrowded and delayed PATCO trains, as well as traffic jams near the bridge.

To make matters worse, PATCO has fallen a year behind in getting refurbished train cars back in service from a factory in New York that is rebuilding the 45-year-old fleet for $194 million.

The DRPA also is still dealing with customer outrage over broken escalators and elevators after a maintenance contract was allowed to lapse last July.

That prompted an inquiry by the Federal Transit Administration, which determined that PATCO had failed "to keep federally funded equipment in good operating order."

The DRPA's chief executive officer, John Matheussen, resigned in January, when he was appointed to a state judgeship by Gov. Christie. He was replaced by chief financial officer John Hanson.


pnussbaum@phillynews.com

215-854-4587

@nussbaumpaul

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