Chris Christie Embroiled in Bridge Scandal, Could Hurt Presidential Run
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's new year isn't off to a great start as his role in causing the worst traffic jam ever is becoming clear. Emails leaked Wednesday are making it apparent that the governor's administration closed down the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge as a way to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie's election campaign.
The gridlock, created by lane closures, caused a holdup for not just hours, but for days. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey maintains the traffic jam was due to a last-minute traffic study. And now, what was once a little Jersey transit debacle could have serious implications on Christie's presidential run in 2016.
Christie's maintained the position that his administration wasn't involved in the closures — and granted, they don't exactly mention the lane closures by name in the leaked emails. But, um:
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," his aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, wrote to a Port Authority executive in August.The executive, David Wildstein, replied in an email: "Got it."
... In another message sent amid the gridlock, an unidentified author wrote: "Is it wrong that I'm smiling," and Wildstein responded: "No."
It sounds like everyone in the mayor's office was really excited for that impromptu traffic study. Oh, carefree bureaucratic spontaneity! And Christie was such a good sport —when he was asked if he knew about the lane closings, he replied he'd personally put out the traffic cones (sarcasm then, questionable now). But now, all fingers point to political pettiness after it was discovered that Christie's campaign manager was in communication with Wildstein about the closures.
"The smoking gun is not quite in the governor's hand, but these e-mails show that it is awfully close to it," Seton Hall University associate professor of political science Matthew Hale said. "Governor Christie has spent an enormous amount of effort trying to get away from the narrative that he is a bully. These emails destroy all of that effort in a single day."
Christie is blaming his administration's members for the fiasco, saying that he was in the dark about it, and that the email exchange was "not representative of me or my administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions." Let's be honest here: If the emails were really about a traffic study, surely he couldn't be that disappointed in their enthusiasm for it.
"As things begin to unravel with emails, the actions of counterparts, resignations, engagement of defense council, that position becomes more and more difficult to understand, more and more difficult to comprehend and, quite frankly, more and more difficult to believe," he said.
The most damning thing about this traffic jam was that Christie's administration was messing around with lives. EMS coordinator Paul Flavia reported four cases in which paramedics hadn't been able to effectively reach their targets — one of whom, a 91-year-old-woman, later died.
In December, Wildstein admitted he ordered the lane closures. He's due to testify before a panel of state lawmakers today.
Needless to say, the bridge debacle isn't exactly great for the governor's chances at a 2016 run for the presidency: Christie's main appeal is his "willingness to play the bipartisan game," but a petty move like this doesn't exactly speak well to that ability. And if there's one thing most voters are bitter about, it's traffic jams.