Christie's apology is all about politics

Gov. Christie at his nearly two-hour news conference in Trenton. The Washington Post dubbed Christie's performance a "me-me-mea culpa."
Gov. Christie at his nearly two-hour news conference in Trenton. The Washington Post dubbed Christie's performance a "me-me-mea culpa." (JEFF ZELEVANSKY / Getty Images)
Posted: January 13, 2014

Time for some political problems for Chris Christie.

The governor apologized Thursday until he was red in the face. Instead of Mr. Tough Guy, he was Mr. Sad Guy. He was embarrassed and humiliated and heartbroken, which is so not New Jersey. And so not Christie. His epic news conference ran almost two hours - possibly, as one wag noted, in solidarity with motorists trapped in September's gerrymandered traffic quagmire.

Christie likes to appear as though he's stronger than the storm. We know this from the $4.7 million ad campaign in which the governor was featured more prominently than the Shore. But on Thursday, he tried to sell himself - and Christie is always selling himself, driving the political narrative toward the 2016 inevitable - as a bewildered victim.

"The buck stops at my desk," Christie said. But not the traffic cones that turned Fort Lee into a parking lot for four fun-filled days. The governor offered that he was a delegator who was "blindsided" by supposedly loyal staff. He said, "I probably wouldn't know a traffic study if I tripped over it."

So which Christie is he: Tough guy in charge, or boss without a clue?

Why, after days of constant complaints and coverage of what has been called the area's worst traffic troubles since the days after 9/11, didn't the governor do anything?

What kind of culture exists within his administration and political operation that a deputy chief of staff, a ranking Port Authority appointee (who pleaded the Fifth to state lawmakers Thursday), and a two-time campaign manager could exhibit such "callous indifference," to quote the governor, in seeking retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich?

If we learned anything from Watergate, it's that underlings don't engage in nefarious behavior without a boss or climate that encourages it. I have a hard time believing that Christie's associates "went rogue" all of a sudden.

The governor has a long history of going after people who cross him and of doing as he pleases, to wit, the $12 million special-election bill New Jersey taxpayers footed so that Christie wouldn't share a ballot with Cory Booker and could crush his Democratic challenger by 22 points, allowing him to promote himself as a bipartisan uniter when he runs for president. (Oh, and Christie won Fort Lee.)

"I am not a bully," Christie said last week, yet he continues to act like one. How many people did he throw under the bus or, more fitting, off the George Washington Bridge?

Of Sokolich: "I wouldn't be able to pick him out of a lineup." Also, my favorite: "This can't have anything to do with politics. I don't even know this guy." And Christie said Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop "seems to be having a lot of disagreements with lots of people."

Downplaying his relationship with former Port Authority official David Wildstein, he said: "We didn't travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don't know what David was doing during that period of time." Christie was cool. Wildstein? Not so much.

Yet again, the governor made it all about himself. Christie's girth has shrunk, but not his self-regard.

So deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" Kelly was fired "because she lied to me," not because she caused days of inconvenience for Jersey residents, including schoolchildren.

The Washington Post dubbed Christie's performance a "me-me-mea culpa," except everyone else was culpable.

On Thursday afternoon, the governor visited Fort Lee's mayor, not the residents who were inconvenienced, because it's still all about politics. He made the trip even after Sokolich called it premature and asked Christie to hold off until federal and legislative investigations are completed. Traffic became a mess, including the George Washington Bridge approach, just in time for rush hour.

To which one must ask, haven't the residents of Fort Lee suffered enough?


kheller@phillynews.com

215-854-2586 @kheller

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