Christie foes dog his steps from Fort Lee to Chicago

North Bergen resident Alex Howard tells of
North Bergen resident Alex Howard tells of (being stuck in traffic in September during a protest near the George Washington Bridge. AP)
Posted: February 13, 2014

FORT LEE, N.J. - On a day when Gov. Christie's opponents dogged him from this Bergen County borough to Chicago, a small group of protesters gathered Tuesday near the George Washington Bridge, recounting the unusually bad traffic several of them endured when some lanes to the bridge were closed in September.

Facing a throng of television cameras on a snow-covered perch overlooking the bridge, where cars and trucks moved at a steady clip during lunch hour, Valerie Howard-Fadul recalled the 51/2 hours she said she spent driving back from a Sept. 10 appointment with her eye doctor in Manhattan.

Howard-Fadul, who has glaucoma, travels to her doctor several times a year for treatment. She doesn't drive at night, she said, and didn't expect to that day - until she got stuck in the gridlock.

"I am very angry," she said. "This was unfair." At the time, motorists like her didn't know why traffic was so backed up in Fort Lee. Now, with lawmakers and federal prosecutors probing what role Christie allies played in deliberately causing the jams, Howard-Fadul joined about a dozen protesters Tuesday at Fort Lee Historic Park.

The event was coordinated by Progressive Campaign Change Committee and New Jersey Working Families Alliance, two left-leaning groups that said they have collected 14,000 signatures calling for Christie's resignation if it turns out he was involved in the gridlock.

"Why should we have to pay for him being such a bully? It makes no sense," said Alex Howard, a North Bergen resident and member of the Progressive committee who also had been caught in the traffic.

Speaking to the Economic Club of Chicago on Tuesday, Christie said the controversy would not derail his second-term agenda, the Associated Press reported.

"If there's more action that needs to be taken, I'll take it," said Christie, who was also expected to appear at private fund-raisers in Chicago on Tuesday in his role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Christie has said he had no involvement in any plot to jam traffic at the bridge. He fired a top aide and let go a political adviser last month, when e-mails were released revealing an apparent scheme to create gridlock in Fort Lee by shutting two of three access lanes onto the bridge.

Some have alleged that the lane closures - which began Sept. 9 and ended the morning of Sept. 13 - were intended to target the borough's Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie's reelection.

Howard, an independent contractor from North Bergen who fixes computer systems, experienced the traffic snarls twice during that period. On one day, he said, he spent an extra hour taking his wife to a doctor's appointment in Englewood Cliffs; two days later, he arrived an hour late to an appointment with a client.

He didn't suspect wrongdoing: "You don't think somebody's doing something" to cause it, Howard said. He said he lost an hour's pay for being late the second day.

Rob Tessaro said some of his relatives were stuck in traffic for six hours while driving to Manhattan.

While Tessaro himself didn't get stuck, "we just couldn't go anywhere," said the 37-year-old, who lives blocks from the bridge in Fort Lee and works from home.

Tessaro, who remembers waking that week to car horns and "screeching brakes," couldn't get his 2-year-old daughter to day care. Family members came over to help.

"We want the answers as to why this happened," he said. "New Jersey deserves better."

A Christie spokesman declined to comment on the calls for the governor's resignation.

Democrats have battered Christie in recent weeks over the bridge controversy, with Democratic National Committee representatives trailing him during trips out of state.

Christie has been seen as a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, though the controversies surrounding his administration have set off speculation about his ability to run.

On Tuesday, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, held a news conference in Chicago and gave interviews to reporters, questioning Christie's ability to lead the RGA and whether he was "an appropriate role model" for aspiring governors.

"It seems to me there are two possible conclusions here. One is that he knew what was going on, and has not been candid about that," Strickland said in a phone interview Tuesday. "Or the other conclusion is, he had allowed such a culture to develop in his inner circle that they felt free to carry out this reprehensible behavior." For Christie to not have known about the lane closures "says something rather pathetic about his leadership," Strickland said.

During an hour-long question-and-answer session in front of a crowd of 1,600 at the Economic Club, Christie was asked one question about the bridge controversy, according to the AP.

"While the last six weeks have not been the most enjoyable of my life, the fact is, we have to do our work," Christie told attendees, the AP reported.


INSIDE

Christie is falling far behind Hillary Clinton in a potential 2016 race, a poll finds. A11.

Christie's reelection campaign can use money remaining in its account and raise more funds to comply with subpoenas. B1.


mhanna@phillynews.com

609-989-8990 @maddiehanna


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