Christie still stuck on the bridge

ASSOCIATED PRESS "A very sad" New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visits City Hall yesterday in Fort Lee, N.J.
ASSOCIATED PRESS "A very sad" New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visits City Hall yesterday in Fort Lee, N.J.
Posted: January 10, 2014

TRENTON - Embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie learned yesterday what thousands of his traffic-jammed constituents found out last fall - that it's not so easy to put the George Washington Bridge in your rearview mirror.

With his political future and an anticipated 2016 White House bid on the line, the once-charmed Christie spent most of the day trying to dig out from his worst scandal with all the stagecraft and stamina of a concert by his Garden State idol, Bruce Springsteen.

At a remarkable news conference that lasted roughly two hours, Christie apologized for the political-retribution scheme carried out by his political allies that closed entrance lanes and toll booths on the bridge and paralyzed the Hudson River town of Fort Lee with traffic for four days. He maintained that he knew nothing about their actions.

Later, the just re-elected GOP governor flew by helicopter to Fort Lee - an irony that was not lost upon some in the Twitterati - to meet with the apparent political target of the scheme, Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, and personally say he was sorry. It's been speculated the lane closures were because Sokolich didn't join other Democratic mayors to endorse Christie's 2013 re-election.

The political pundits - who'd ferociously turned against their 2016 poster child after leaked emails and texts showed that his fired-yesterday deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, had ordered up the traffic nightmare in August - had kinder, gentler words for Christie after a news conference that was longer than many Hollywood movies.

"As a theatrical performance, Christie's appearance was close to a tour de force," wrote Kathleen Decker in the Los Angeles Times, her tone echoed by other observers. Christie's humble, low-key performance was choked with emotion - "I am a very sad person today," he said - followed by musings about betrayal that sounded as if they were outtakes from "The Godfather."

Christie also got what passed for good news in his horrible week when the daughter of a 91-year-old woman who died after waiting for an ambulance stuck in the Fort Lee jam told the New York Times that the delay had not caused her death. But that, the firing of aide Kelly and a move to cut ties with former campaign manager Bill Stepien - also linked to the scandal - did not dispel these dark clouds:

*  David Wildstein, a Christie associate and high-school acquaintance who implemented the lane closures in his role as an executive at the Port Authority after the email from Kelly, invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions before an Assembly transportation committee hearing. In a navy suit and thick black eyeglasses, Wildstein did not fidget or sweat through their hearing, despite the annoyance of his audience at his move.

*  The U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fishman, announced that his office has begun a review of the caper to see if any federal laws were violated. Last night, the New York Daily News reported that the FBI is also investigating.

*  Despite sparring with reporters for 120 minutes, Christie left key questions unanswered about how he could claim to be so out of the loop regarding what key staffers were doing, and whether he bears responsibility for the climate in which those aides assumed that petty political retribution would make their boss happy.

In the circuslike atmosphere swirling around the capital, many Christie critics made it clear that they have no plans to let the governor off the hook.

Jay Lassiter of Cherry Hill, who writes for the blog PolitickerNJ (ironically where Wildstein also worked years earlier), said he attended the Assembly hearing as "an outraged taxpayer and a pissed-off New Jersey resident." He said: "I think this is either going to be a drip-drip-drip story or something explosive will drop."

Another attendee who said Christie did nothing to answer her questions - not surprisingly - was South Jersey labor leader Milly Silva, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in 2013.

"This is dirty politics trumping public safety," Silva said. "This kind of thing only happens where you have a culture of bullying, retaliation and retribution against your opponents."

On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo


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