THE VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
A potential traffic tie-up along NJ
Gov Christie's road to the White House
Saturday, January 11, 2014
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
EDITOR's NOTE: The following Commentary was written before the release- to the public- of some 2,000 pages of documents by the committee of the New Jersey General Assembly (the lower house of the State's Legislature) currently looking into the so-called 'GWB Scandal' which is the subject matter of this piece, documents which appear to suggest that the "targets"- as it were- of the events which took place in and around Fort Lee, NJ back in September 2013 (said events described below) might well have been Democratic Party legislators (particularly those from Bergen County, which is the county abutting the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge) as well as- if not even instead- of the Mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich. It is the opinion of the Editor that this interpretation of what is contained in at least some of the said documents does nothing to at all alter the relevancy of what Mr. Berg-Andersson has written herein.
This one will be (and my more regular readers will here breathe a well-deserved sigh of relief, I am sure!) relatively- where not also mercifully- brief: for there is not all that much to say and, in any event, proper context is probably best seen by reading this piece in light of my earlier Commentary of this past 8 November.
It all began late last summer (that of 2013), as the General Election campaign for Governor of New Jersey between the incumbent, Republican Chris Christie, and his Democratic Party nominated challenger, then-State Senator Barbara Buono, was first getting underway. Buono was viewed largely as the duly designated "sacrificial lamb" in what was widely believed to be the re-election (by a landslide, where not also- albeit figuratively, of course- a virtual "coronation") of Governor Christie come that November and, as a result, more than a few Democratic local officeholders throughout the Garden State began to line up behind Christie rather than their own Party's choice for Governor (and it didn't much help Buono in this regard that she had purposefully named a trade union executive as her running mate: if Buono was going to lose anyway, so it seemed, she might as well run as the voice of the more liberal wing within the New Jersey Democratic Party [and this, in turned, turned off many a more "traditional" Democrat governing many a Garden State municipality]).
One of those Democratic Party local officeholders evidently expected to, at some point, endorse Christie over Buono was the Mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich...
he didn't... and thus began the chain of events that has led to me writing this very piece for this website.
One Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff, responded to Sokolich's political snub of her boss with an e-mail to David Wildstein, then-director of capital projects at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (which operates the George Washington Bridge connecting Sokolich's Fort Lee to upper Manhattan) in which Kelly opined that it was now "[t]ime for some traffic problems in Fort Lee"; Wildstein (a Christie appointee who also happens to have been a high school classmate of the New Jersey Governor) replied "Got it".
Come the morning of Monday 9 September 2013, two of three lanes of an on-ramp to the aforementioned bridge (one that allows access to the Manhattan-bound lanes of that bridge from many of the feeder streets of Fort Lee) were suddenly found, by rush hour commuters, to have been blocked off-- and without warning (not a one of those seemingly otherwise ubiquitous orange warning signs throughout the Garden State in which I myself live reading "On or about [such and such a date] this road will be closed... please seek alternative routes"), too! Traffic (as might have well been predicted by anyone familiar with the area's motor vehicle traffic patterns) backed up throughout Fort Lee, as well as some of its neighboring towns, as well as on the George Washington Bridge itself... commuters were late to work (some by hours), local schoolchildren were delayed in getting to school (whether via school bus or private car), emergency vehicles (such as ambulances and fire trucks) found it difficult to get around... and this all went on for some four days!
Finally (with the ongoing, as well as ever-increasing traffic nightmare on the Jersey side of the bridge spilling over into upper Manhattan and even The Bronx on the New York side), late on Thursday 12 September 2013, the two closed lanes on that on-ramp out of Fort Lee were, just as suddenly, re-opened. But the whole episode only led to all sorts of questions (why all the secrecy about the closing, and then re-opening, of said lanes? Might it even have had something to do with the fact that the Wednesday of that same week happened to have been the 12th Anniversary of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks?)... rumors began to bubble to the surface that these lane closures might actually have had something to do with Politics.
Christie and his Administration, of course, "pooh-pooh"ed just such a notion (if there were political "dirty tricks", Christie's people- as well as many noteworthy New Jersey Republicans- opined, it was on the part of Democrats trying to, somehow, turn an ordinary closure of a few traffic lanes in one corner of the State into a seemingly quixotic attempt to undermine the Governor's apparently unassailable popularity amongst voters throughout the State [might Buono/Silva be that foolishly desperate?!])
By mid-October, when political interest first turned from the Special Election that had propelled then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker [Democrat] into the United States Senate to the election for Governor coming along in less than three weeks, a "cover story" had been put forth: that the lane closures were associated with a mere Traffic Study by the Port Authority-- nothing more. Democrats continued to cry "Foul!" and Republicans (led by Christie himself) responded by chiding said Democrats as, more or less, a bunch of whiners: most New Jersey voters (regardless of Party, or none) seemed to, pretty much, agree and- as ever predicted- Christie trounced Buono in the November 2013 election...
but then came word that the Port Authority's director had never ever authorized- indeed, weren't even, at the time, aware of- a Traffic Study in Fort Lee, NJ during the week of 9 September: so, if the higher-ups at the Port Authority didn't order the lane closures, who did? By early December 2013, Wildstein had resigned his Port Authority post (citing the many "distractions" caused him by the constant attention being paid to what had happened in Fort Lee the previous September; Port Authority Deputy Director Bill Baroni (to whom Fort Lee Mayor Sokolich had unsuccessfully pleaded for help, via e-mail, as the traffic nightmare in his town unfolded) had also resigned... but Governor Christie, ever defiant, continued to deny his own people were, in any way, involved-- even joking about the possibility (to the cheers of his own Party's faithful, not only here in the Garden State but elsewhere).
But now- come early January 2014- we can all read the above quoted e-mails, along with many others that should well have stifled any such cheers on the GOP side of things.
The Republican Party US has long suffered from something of a PR problem: for it is the Democratic Party that- far more successfully- portrays itself as the Party most caring, and concerned, about the welfare of the average working man and woman and their families (a rather important element in Barack Obama's being able to win not just one, but two, Presidential Elections): Republicans, across the ideological spectrum, well chafe at this portrayal (not just about the rival Democrats, but also what just such a portrayal might say about themselves) but it certainly does not at all help when there are e-mails within the Kelly-Wildstein "chain" at the height of that traffic nightmare in Fort Lee in which concern for its effects upon local schoolchildren (at least) is shot down with a terse "Their parents are all Buono voters"!
But aside from the Grand Old Party being hoisted on a petard that is, at least partially, of its own making of late, there is the simple fact that the leadership cadre(s) within the so-called 'Establishment' wing of the Republican Party US is(are) very much fearful of a takeover of the Grand Old Party by so-called 'Tea Party' factions within (as well as, in some cases, without) the Party by (or, at least, come) 2016- if only because they see a 'Tea Party'-supported Republican presidential nominee as an almost certain loser come the next Presidential Election in November of that year. (Meanwhile: the leaders- where not also the "rank and file"- of various and sundry 'Tea Party'-aligned groups, of course, take all due umbrage at any such notion that their respective political visions for the Party in particular- as well as America in general- could at all lose, as the view of many- if not most- 'Tea Party'ers is that they- and not the Republican 'Establishment'- much more truly represent the very mainstream of American politics and values).
Thus, these 'Establishment' Republicans want to have but one presidential contender putting forth non-'Tea Party' views come the 2016 Presidential Primary/Caucus "season", rather than- potentially- a multiplicity of such non-'Tea Party' candidates which might well only serve to split the votes of more moderate Republicans in Primaries and Caucuses (as well as, thereby, give 'Tea Party' presidential contenders even more targets with which to hit with the epithet 'RINO [Republican In Name Only]').
Make no mistake about it, then: Governor Christie of New Jersey is already being well vetted by the GOP 'Establishment' as its possible primary contender (on behalf of said wing of the Party) for the 2016 Republican Presidential Nomination and what has now become known, more generally, as the 'GWB [that is: George Washington Bridge] Scandal' has now well put Christie "on watch" by same as regards his own possible presidential ambitions.
Thus: if Christie does, indeed, harbor just such ambitions, he had better get in front of this story and put it well behind him over the ensuing days, weeks and months!
In this light, at least one aspect of his nearly two hour-long mea culpa press conference of Thursday 9 January 2014 is altogether troubling, where not even outright disturbing (for it so clearly raises a "red flag"): his statement that, re: his having fired Ms. Kelly, he made no attempt at all to discern why she had done what she did-- because (so he himself stated) he was "not interested" in just such an explanation! It certainly appears Governor Christie does not want to know why and this strongly suggests that he may well fear that one or more persons still within his own Administration- people he might not want to have to now fire (especially as his second term as Governor is soon going to commence)- might well also be involved, either directly or indirectly, in the scandal...
but this also means that the Governor has, seemingly, left himself ill-prepared for what might well come back and "bite him" down the road and such a "bite" may, in fact, be a rather serious one that would then lead the GOP 'Establishment' to surely be seeking someone else to be its own principal candidate for the Presidency come the 2016 Presidential Primaries and Caucuses...