As part of a retaliatory political vendetta against Fort Lee, NJ mayor Mark Sokolich, who refused to endorse New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s re-election bid, the NJ Governor’s deputy chief of staff and other top Christie administration officials in Port Authority have been implicated in an unfolding scandal involving deliberately orchestrated traffic delays to America’s busiest bridge, causing mayhem and gridlock around the Fort Lee area.
To make matters worse for the Republican Governor of New Jersey, federal prosecutors announced Thursday they have opened an investigation into whether lane closures at the George Washington Bridge between New York and New Jersey in September were violations of federal law.
Rebekah Carmichael, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, said: “The Port Authority Office of Inspector General has referred the matter to us, and our office is reviewing the matter to determine whether a federal law was implicated.”
A disclosed cache of private e-mail correspondence between key figures in Christie’s camp sent the administration into containment mode and has already resulted in the resignations of two top Christie appointees in Port Authority, Bill Baroni and David Wildstein. The e-mails, originating from the Governor’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly’s personal account to Wildstein’s personal account, reads “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” and is dated Aug. 13.The lane closures, which were defended as being part of a nonexistent study when initially scrutinized, started Sept. 9 the first day of school in New Jersey .
The e-mails reveal a deliberate, pre-meditated abuse of power in closing down two access lanes in the Fort Lee area specifically to create a problem for Mark Sokolich, and state senator Barbara Buono, Governor Christie’s political opponent in the 2013 gubernatorial race. Until recently, the governor flat out denied his office’s involvement, subsequently softening his position to say he didn’t believe his office wasn’t involved in the closures, and finally admitting his administrations involvement while still denying any direct culpability.
In a statement late Wednesday, the Governor publicly stated, “I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge,” Christie said. “One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better.”
During the time when the lanes were closed in Fort Lee, ambulances were delayed to four calls. One woman, a 91-year-old who was already unconscious, died later that day after the ambulances arrival was delayed.
The gleeful correspondence about the attacks on the George Washington Bridge reveals a particularly distasteful side of politics. State senator and 2013 gubernatorial opponent Barbara Buono has stated the incident follows a pattern of political strong-arming from the New Jersey Governor and has urged a federal investigation into the matter.
“He is the worst example of a bully and a boss,” Buono said. “And this string of emails clearly exposes a web of deceit, subterfuge and arrogance leading straight to Chris Christie.”
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said that in hindsight, he’s grateful his instincts barred him from endorsing the Governor. “How low can you go?” Sokolich asked. “This is insane. It’s the worst example of a petty political vendetta . . . I’m embarrassed. And congratulations, you’ve just made New Jersey the brunt of every political joke for the next 25 years — again.”
Like something out of House of Cards, the incident threatens to transform the cultivated image of the leading Republican presidential hopeful from one of a straight-talking, no-nonsense politician able to look past partisan roadblocks, to a portrait of a ruthlessly ambitious career politician using sectors of his constituency as pawns in a petty Machiavellian game.
Comedian Jon Stewart captured the stink emanating from the scandal best when he stated: “Clearly, somebody is getting thrown under the bus here,” the Jersey-born funnyman said on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” “Fortunately for them, the bus isn’t moving. It’s stuck in terrible traffic.”
Watch Chris Christie’s Bridge Scandal Explained: