Chris Christie Faces Second Bridge Scandal, Because One #Bridgegate Just Wasn't Enough
The Christie administration simply can't help itself where bridges are concerned. With a federal investigation of the now-infamous "traffic problems in Fort Lee" already underway, yet another bridge-centered scandal is threatening Chris Christie, and could embroil the state's government. If you were angling to do some political messaging (hint hint, New Jersey Democrats), you might even call it Bridgegate 2.0.
We'll just call it a massive dilemma for Team Christie, and a really unwelcome distraction for an administration already racked with tension and uncertainty. Amid reports that New Jersey's U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman is leaning on top Christie allies implicated in Bridgegate, and thinks he'll eventually "get to the governor," another embarrassing, potentially illegal story is bad enough. And in terms of politics, having a second story involve a bridge in any way, shape, or form makes it all the worse for Christie, and for whatever plans he may have coming in the next couple years. Cough, White House 2016, cough.
The second scandal of its kind centers around a stretch of bridges and highway, which were well overdue for some infrastructure repairs. Sounds simple enough, right? Here's what happened, and how it all allegedly went wrong...
Where Is The Bridge?
It's not actually a bridge in the strictest sense — rather, the Pulaski Skyway features two bridges, crossing both the Hackensack and Passaic River, as well as acting as a highway between the two, and extending out on either side. There's actually some level of disagreement about the precise span of the Skyway depending on what organization you ask, but it's broadly considered to be about 3.5 miles long.
It carries U.S. Route 1/9 for most of that span, connecting Newark to Jersey City. Here's how it looks on Google Maps:
What is the Scandal?
New Jersey wanted the Skyway repaired, but they weren't keen to shell out the money to do so themselves. Rather, they wanted to use money from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to handle the repairs, but as the Skyway was clearly property solely of New Jersey, the Authority balked at the request. Legally speaking, that could have been the end of it.
But lawyers for the state and the Port Authority reportedly found a way around that legal conundrum — they allegedly sought to skirt the rules by reclassifying the Skyway itself as an entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. The problem with this might not be intuitive to a non-local, so for some perspective, take another look at that map, pulled out a bit.
Oh... oh dear. As you can see, to call the Pulaski Skyway an entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel is quite a generous interpretation. The road which runs through the tunnel sits 40 blocks to the north of the Skyway, which feeds far more directly into the Holland Tunnel. The Star-Ledger put together an amusing video about that one.
Simply put, this is the core allegation — that the state of New Jersey got $1.8 billion in Port Authority money for Skyway infrastructure repairs through the shakiest of pretenses. As reported by TIME, if the Lincoln Tunnel claim is disputed or ruled erroneous, those who conceived this navigational sleight-of-hand plan could face felony charges.
Who exactly does that entail? Speaking in defense of the project in April, Governor Christie himself offered this tidbit, as quoted by The New York Times:
Dozens and dozens of lawyers from both sides of the river reviewed that financing plan and approved it, as did the commissioners of the Port Authority.
So in other words, if this controversy continues to spiral and grow, a veritable slew of people could be called to account.
What Does This Mean For Christie?
Well, it's not good. The details of the story do reinforce certain familiar, negative impressions of his administration that are echoed in the bigger, ever-unfolding Bridgegate case — e.g. the willingness to use official power to bend or break the rules. It's impossible to know for certain how the Fort Lee scandal has changed the way Christie views his own political prospects, and whether another, smaller news item like this would have much impact.
But suffice to say, Christie has gone from a veritable lock as a 2016 GOP presidential frontrunner to a deeply damaged political brand. Very quickly.
Still, all indications are that he's forging ahead with his presidential ambitions, in spite of his scandal-plagued last several months — he's spending quite a bit of time in New Hampshire of late, and he's still on the weight loss path, bolstering his health by shedding over 80 pounds. Basically, he seems to be moving forward with a steel-eyed gaze at 2016, even as his out-of-state trips could resemble fiddling while Rome burns.
Image: Public Domain/Wikimedia