By now, everybody with even the slightest interest in current events has seen headline after news story after magazine feature about Chris Christie and some **scandal.** There is a lot of information about the fallout and theories about why it happened, but my question when I first got wind of the story was WHAT happened in the first place?
So let me tell you WHAT the way I wish it had been explained to me.
If you don’t live in NYC, you may not have heard of the George Washington Bridge, but it’s a big deal. As in the biggest deal. The GWB is the busiest bridge on the planet, carrying over 100 million vehicles every year and the Port Authority is responsible for its running, including closures and maintanence. It’s a vital link between NYC and New Jersey while also carrying a busy stretch of I-95 (which goes from Maine to Florida) and the terminus of the New Jersey Turnpike. Closing any part of this bridge is a transportation disaster and that’s exactly what happened.
On September 9th, two members of Christie’s administration closed 2 of the 3 lanes that feed into the bridge from Fort Lee, NJ and those lanes stayed closed through September 13. During the closure, typical transit times increased 300%. What would normally be a 30-40 minute trip from Fort Lee to the Upper East Side of Manhattan during rush hour turned into an hour and 45 minutes which put jobs and lives at risk. 91-year-old Florence Genova died of cardiac arrest when paramedics could not navigate the traffic in a reasonable amount of time. (x)
Those are the basics. We also know who ordered the closure.
On Aug 13, Bridget Kelly (Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs to Christie) sent an email to David Wildenstein (Director of Interstate Capital Projects at the Port Authority, appointed by Christie) which said “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Over the next couple of weeks, Wildenstein worked with the Port Authority’s chief traffic engineers to create a scenario for closing two of the lanes coming from Fort Lee. On September 6, Wildenstein emailed Kelly that they were “ready to do this.” The GWB was closed on September 9th and the official explanation given was that the Port Authority needed to study traffic patterns in the area. (x)
Everything else about this scandal is conjecture related to who ultimately had Kelly make the request, since it was out of character for her personally and out of scope professionally, what was the real reasoning behind the request, and how much did Christie know? Public opinion seems to fall along party lines. Republicans believe Christie had no part in the scandal and is taking efforts to find the real culprits and punish them accordingly. Kelly has already been fired and others have stepped down from their posts. Democrats believe Christie used Fort Lee in a political payback scheme from one of two angles.
In the first theory, Fort Lee’s Mayor Mark Sokolich took the brunt of criticism from residents in the beginning when the prevailing notion was that he was behind the bridge closure for whatever reason or he signed off on it. He took a big public hit which could affect his reelection chances, which would serve Christie’s interests since Sokolich refused to back Christie during his campaign for Governor. (x) The other theory has Christie serving retribution against NJ Senate majority leader Loretta Weinberg whose district includes Fort Lee. Weinberg and other Democrats planned to block Helen E. Hoen’s reappointment to the NJ Supreme Court, a move which prompted Christie to call them “animals” on August 12, the day before Kelly sent her traffic email to Wildstein at the Port Authority. (x) Both scenarios are plausible and both seem to point to the obvious conclusion that Christie both knew about the plan and endorsed it to further his own political payback, especially since he has the reputation of being a bully.
Now that we all have the basics, I’m waiting for more fallout. There is more information that we don’t have, but meanwhile, Christie’s ship is clearly sinking and I’m not mad at that at all. He posed the biggest threat to Democrats in 2016 because too many people forget that he’s still a Republican whose policies are bad for the country. He doesn’t wear bigotry on his sleeve and wear a Bible strapped to his forehead, so his persona has lulled the Left into kind of complacency when it comes to him. He’s a Republican…but he’s not like THOSE Republicans, so the drive to actively vote against him isn’t as strong as it is with a politician like Paul Ryan or Rand Paul. Bridge-gate isn’t the biggest scandal in the country, but it might be big enough to take down Chris Christie.