Is a pattern starting to emerge showing that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is too willing to punish whole communities whose mayors don’t endorse him? It’s starting to look that way, even as another trouble spot – Christie’s use of Hurricane Sandy recovery funds – has appeared. It’s not the normal way to open a bid for the White House.
Christie has denied any knowledge of four days of lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, which connects Fort Lee, N.J., to Manhattan. But recently disclosed emails between a Christie staffer and an appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey make clear that the closures were retribution. Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor had refused to endorse Christie, a Republican, in his 2013 re-election bid. Go figure.
The decision to close those bridge lanes documents an appalling, if not criminal, display of poor judgment. The consequences were severe, including a potentially fatal delay in first responders reaching a woman in distress. She died of a heart attack. The closures also delayed the search for a missing 4-year-old girl.
What, if anything, Christie knew will clearly affect whatever political plans he may have, and recent disclosures lend doubt to his denials. First of all, new disclosures suggest that his administration also retaliated against the Democratic mayor of Jersey City for also failing to endorse Christie.
There, he cut off contact and assistance to the city, including, reports say, its requests for funds to help recover from Hurricane Sandy. The evidence suggests an administration policy of retaliating against Democratic mayors who didn’t jump the fence to endorse him while rewarding Democratic mayors who did. Maybe that’s normal in New Jersey, but not many American voters want that from a president.
Secondly, a story in the Wall Street Journal shows that Christie and the appointee who ordered the lane closures, David Wildstein, were together on the third day of the traffic jams. It is not known what they talked about, but it strains credulity to believe that the mess in Fort Lee wasn’t part of it.
Thirdly, in a New York Times profile of Bridget Anne Kelly, the aide Christie fired for initiating the closures, friends describe her as a “loyal soldier” to Christie, not a “rule breaker.” For her to have made this decision without believing she was acting on her boss’ sentiments seems dramatically unlikely.
Christie is also facing new troubles. He is under investigation for his use of federal Hurricane Sandy recovery funds for television commercials starring him and his family in the “Stronger than the Storm” spots meant to bring tourists back to the Jersey Shore.
Certainly, there was a real economic interest in that effort, but should Christie have been featured in federally funded ads, or should New Jersey have borne that cost? The latter should absolutely have been the case if that money was diverted from more fundamental, uncompleted recovery efforts.
Christie is already paying a price for these actions and for his failure to explain them adequately. A man he has described as a mentor, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, said Christie’s approach to governing can be “dangerous,” and something that voters should consider closely should he run for president.
And while Christie’s poll numbers remain in high in New Jersey, a new polls shows a majority of respondents saying he should resign if he knew about the lane closures. That’s a line in the sand, and it’s good advice, too.