New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) and his administration has been embroiled in scandal over closures of two of the three access lanes to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee September 9 -13. “What’s the big deal?” you may ask, “Highway and bridge lanes are constantly shut down in my state and nobody says boo.” The difference is the George Washington Bridge is the busiest bridge in NJ. The closures lead to traffic jams that stretched to local roads and delayed first responders. September 9 was the first day of school in Fort Lee and many students were late to or missed classes. Commuters were stranded for hours leading to lost hours and work days. The official line from the Governor’s office had the lanes closed for a, “traffic study,” which might sound suspect to the lay person and political junky alike and they would not be wrong.
Almost instantly rumors started that the lane closures were political retribution against Mayor Mark Sokolich (D-Fort Lee) for not endorsing Christie in his reelection campaign. Recently released emails seem to confirm suspicions. Former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly (fired by Christie) wrote, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” to David Wildstein (Resigned) who responded, “Got it.” The incriminating emails and texts are too numerous to list here but involve several of Christies top aids taking pleasure in the chaos they orchestrated and hurling racial epithets in reference to Sokolich’s Serbian heritage. The one thing these emails haven’t revealed is any involvement or knowledge on the part of the Governor and he has done everything in his power to distance himself from the scandal. He has fired all the right people and said all the right things up to this point including taking time at the begin of his State of the State address to pay lip service saying, “I'm the governor and I'm ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch -- both good and bad.”
How much did Christie really know? We may never truly know but according to some colleagues he runs a tight ship and his staff knows to run everything by the Governor before taking action which points to a closed door policy of, “If you or your team are caught, the administration will disavow any knowledge of your actions,” shades of, “Mission Impossible.” On the other hand aids and staffers are appointed to lessen the load of administrative duties because our political system is so complicated and convoluted it seems most politicians are just there to put a face on policy and act as a lightning rod when said policy angers the public.
Ever present at the center of this controversy is Christie’s 2016 presidential aspirations. He has appealed to independent voters by publicly criticized Republican leadership for their handling of Super Storm Sandy relief while thanking Obama for his response and softened his stance on same sex marriage while maintaining himself as frontrunner for the Republican nomination. This scandal hasn’t seemed to have a negative effect on Christie’s future political plans but a lot can and will happen between now and November 8, 2016. Not only has he got to dodge mud from Democrats but he’s got to contend with members of his own party looking to gain the Republican nomination and the Republican establishment he’s spurned on his way to the top. In other words it’s pointless to be talking presidential hopefuls and frontrunners. The issues and the field will change countless times before primary elections begin and once they do it’s still completely up in the air as anyone who remembers the story of a young and inexperienced yet ambitious Illinois Senator’s presidential run in 2008.
Just a couple hours after I submitted this article the mayor of Hoboken NJ, Dawn Zimmer (D) went on MSNBC and accused the Christie administration of threatening to withhold funds for Super Storm Sandy relief if she didn’t support a real-estate development in her jurisdiction. Before you start crying partisanship know that Mayor Zimmer and Governor Christie have shared a professionally productive relationship in the past. Zimmer has even gone so far as to Tweet, “I am very glad that Gov. Christie has been our governor.” Now Zimmer says, “…he’s cut from the same corrupt cloth that I have been fighting for the last four years.” Shortly after her interview, New Jersey Senate President and vital ally to the Governor, Stephen M. Sweeney (D) cut ties to the Governor and promised to investigate what he calls, “… a pattern of behavior by the highest ranking members of this administration that is deeply offensive to the people of New Jersey.” The effects of this new scandal on Christies Presidential bid has yet to be quantified but his allies are already jumping ship. It looks like the issues and field has already begun to change.