Earlier this week, emails leaked that revealed members of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's administration deliberately shut off access to the New Jersey side of the George Washington bridge — not for a "last-minute traffic study," as the story went originally — but to hit back at Christie's political opposition. Now, Christie is deep in damage-control mode, apologizing at a press conference Thursday for his administration's actions. Not surprisingly, next week's New Yorker cover is having none of that.
The cover illustrates Christie blocking traffic by running across the road for his ball, which presumably wasn't meant to be let of out of his control: a good metaphor for a scandal in which the micro-managing governor is accused of exacting political retribution on his opponents.
Christie's also depicted in the illustration as a child drawing attention to himself. Which is kind of how he came off at his press conference Thursday, when he both took responsibility for the traffic jam and plead ignorance (yes, that's a contradiction). He drew so much attention to how he was feeling ("I am a sad person today," "That is the emotion I feel today") that he failed to acknowledge the wider ramifications of the bridge closure:
What Christie failed to do over and over again was express horror over the four-day gridlock at the George Washington Bridge. He didn’t rage over the impact that had on the school children who couldn’t get to school ... And he didn’t throw himself on the mercy of the court of public opinion over the story of delayed response times of emergency medical services and the people hurt by it.
Christie is accused of exacting revenge on Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who didn't endorse Christie's gubernatorial campaign. In a meeting with Christie Thursday, however, Sokolich said he "took him for his word" and believes the governor when he says he didn't premeditate the closure.
But another theory on Christie's motivations emerged Thursday from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, who posits that the bridge closure was actually political revenge for a feud with some of the state's Democratic senators.
Closing off the bridge with a gridlock meant that paramedics couldn't get where they needed to go in time. First-responders were told by police that the gridlock was due to a "new traffic pattern" (technically true). But with response times up to triple what they normally were, there were some serious consequences; including delays in getting to an accident with multiple injuries, as well as a missing four-year-old. Many paramedics hadn’t been able to effectively reach their targets — one of whom, a 91-year-old-woman, later died. Media reports are now questioning if Christie is responsible for the woman's death (however indirectly). "If a woman died here, he's in deep, deep trouble," CNN senior political analyst David Gergen said.
State Democratic senator Ray Lesniak has called for a federal investigation into whether the lane closures resulted in the woman's death. "Endangering people's lives — that's not politics. That's why the U.S. attorneys have to get involved," he said.
Genova's family, however, believes her death would have happened regardless, given her age. "I think she was 91 and really believe in my heart that she was already gone when the ambulance got (to her house)," Genova's daughter Vilma Oleri said.
Other bigshots are getting involved, too. Currently, the Trenton U.S. Attorney's office is seeing if any federal laws were broken with the closure. The Port Authority's inspector-general and Christie's opponent in the last election, Sen. Barbara Buono, have also asked the feds to step in. State lawmakers, particularly Democrats, plan to release 907 pages of documents related to their investigation later Friday.
And more action is pending: A group of six citizens from Bergen County, where Ft. Lee is located, are filing a class-action lawsuit for the wages they lost from not being able to get to work on time. A poll out Friday also finds that 56 percent of voters would want Christie to resign if it turns out he orchestrated the closure. (The majority of New Jersey residents still thought he was doing a better job than President Obama, though.)
Images: The New Yorker