If Chris Christie runs for president, do we agree that “I’ll get the country moving again” won’t be his campaign slogan? But such a campaign, if it ever happens, is a political lifetime away. A more immediate concern to the Tony Soprano of politicians is whether there will be more revelations regarding what he knew about the George Washington Bridge affair and when he knew it.
What a piece of work is this New Jersey Governor, and the reasons are numerous. Of late, he had been leading Republican Presidential polls and competitive with Hillary Clinton. The “hero” of super storm Sandy and Barack Obama’s favorite purple governor has been cultivating his image as a moderate, pragmatic, gruff but authentic fellow who can reach across the aisle and garner bipartisan support. Now, if you follow the story about how his administration retaliated against Democratic mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, NJ for endorsing Democrat Barbara Buono, you see him as ham-handed, petty and vindictive, in short, the stereotypical New Jersey pol.
Okay, he fired the top members of his administration who were so stupid as to use email to execute their vengeful plan. For nearly two hours on Friday, he held a press conference (a “pity presser”) to apologize, swear he didn’t know what was going on, lament his humiliation, and on and on. It’s hard to believe that he was ignorant of the plot to close two of the three lanes of traffic leading to the George Washington Bridge. For nearly a week last fall, traffic backed up into Fort Lee at the opening of school. Maybe Christie could have shrugged off one day of traffic stand-still, but four? Documents sought by state assembly and released Friday suggest that some Port Authority officials warned the lane closures could put people in danger. Indeed, first responders reported serious problems.
To one extent or another, most politicians, use the powers of their office to reward and punish. In fact, if they don’t and their policy agendas stall, we criticize them for being ignorant of the use of power. Lyndon Johnson was a master at knowing how far he could go to “persuade” his opponents. Richard Nixon, for his part, wantonly used the power of office against his perceived enemies, and he repeatedly went over the line. But even Nixon was focused in his attacks: the Democratic National Committee, Democratic nominee George McGovern, critical journalists, anti-war activists, the owners of The Washington Post. The Christie administration, however, was willing to harm ordinary people, going about their daily lives, going to work, to school, to the doctor’s office or hospital.
The idea that Christie knew nothing about this event strains credulity. The two fired individuals were his deputy chief of staff and his campaign manager. He reportedly talked to NY Gov. Cuomo about the issue in December. Stories abound of Christie’s retaliating against others who crossed him (including, by the way, the state senator from Fort Lee, who had clashed with Christie on a judicial appointment.)
Christie is a self-described hands-on guy and surely would know what top aides in his inner circle were doing. In his press conference, he seemed to focus his ire on their having lied to him. It was less clear that he abhorred what they had brought about, though in a statement released by his office on Wednesday he had called the behavior “inappropriate and unsanctioned.”
To a person involved in crisis communications, Thursday’s press conference showed Christie to be doing pretty well in responding to the immediate crisis. Except for serving himself up to political satirists, and breaking a cardinal rule declaring “I am not a bully” (remember Nixon’s asserting “I am not a crook”), Christie made himself available to answer press questions ad nauseum on Thursday, fired those at the top responsible (or at least who got caught at it), assumed responsibility while disclaiming knowledge (convincing many), and took his apology tour right to the office of the mayor of Fort Lee.
But this story has legs . Further investigation will be done by the state assembly. The U.S. Attorney could also investigate to determine if federal laws have been violated. Those who were fired have yet to be heard from. A Rasmussen poll right after the press conference, said 54 percent of New Jersey voters believe Christie likely was aware that the traffic lanes were being closed as retaliation (and, if he did know, 56% think he should resign).
If additional Christie staffers are implicated and, especially, if the Governor himself is proven in any way to have misled people at Friday’s press conference, Bridgegate, as some are calling the episode, could be the death knell for Chris Christie’s Presidential aspirations and career no less than Watergate was for Richard Nixon’s.
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