Ray Duckler: Is Christie creating a smoke screen in Fort Lee?
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Yesterday morning, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stood in front of a pack of hungry media members and essentially said this to his deputy chief of staff and others close to him:
“Liar, liar, pants on fire.”
Then, with customary political polish, Christie added that he, himself, takes responsibility for the scandal that had talk show hosts salivating as they prepared for last night’s monologues.
Does it get any better than this? Any juicer? Any easier to understand?
I’m throwing my two cents in because I grew up in the New York City area and have traveled across the George Washington Bridge (we insiders call it the GWB) more times than I can count.
It’s big and it’s busy, and it certainly needs no help jamming up.
Plus, the issue is so simple, even I understand it, and its simplicity makes the story more delicious. A top Christie aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, and other close associates apparently conspired to close lanes leading to the GWB, making Fort Lee, N.J., resemble the parking lot at Gillette Stadium on game day.
They did this, emails show, because Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich refused to endorse Christie in the last election.
That’s it. Nothing else. No convoluted information about shady tax shelters, no bribery scam that moved through more layers than an onion.
Christie’s people were mad at someone, so they got their revenge – at the expense of firefighters, police officers and schoolchildren.
Now I admit, I’ve done this sort of thing, too. During play time in grade school, when I lured a kid onto the seesaw after he said someone was better than me in stickball. I raised him high in the air, then got off the other end of the seesaw so he’d fall hard to the ground.
Me, not the best stickball player? Think again, buddy.
In this case, Kelly wrote an email to David Wildstein, a high school friend of Christie’s who worked for the organization that controls the bridge.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly’s email read.
A month later, Wildstein ordered the lane closings, for four days. At the busiest bridge in the world. In one of the busiest places in the world.
Something about a traffic study, and if you still believe that one, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
And Christie’s role in all this? He has said he had no knowledge of it, and he echoed that thought yesterday morning during his press conference at the New Jersey State House.
“Embarrassed and humiliated,” former Monitor reporter Maddie Hanna tweeted, quoting Christie.
Hanna now covers the New Jersey State House for the Philadelphia Inquirer. She tweeted that she faced an “Insane line for reporters to get into Christie presser,” and that she was “lucky to get in.”
Christie’s high profile – he could be the next Republican nominee for president – certainly added to media interest, and the congestion surrounding that area, a bridge separating Manhattan and Jersey, added zest to the story.
But the guess here is that this sort of corruption would be a magnet for the media anywhere.
Imagine Maggie Hassan’s office ordering the bridge closed on Loudon Road because Mayor Jim Bouley favored Ovide Lamontagne in the last governor’s election. Imagine closing the city’s other major bridge, on Manchester Street.
Kids would miss their hockey games at Everett Arena. You’d have to wait in your car before you’d be forced to wait in the Division of Motor Vehicles lobby. Rotary meetings at the Red Blazer would be canceled.
Red River Theatres could capitalize on the mess by showing A Bridge Too Far, or perhaps featuring a Jeff Bridges film festival.
But the sting left by snarling traffic jams, caused by childish behavior by city officials and those in state government, would diminish our faith in government, at a time when there is little faith to go around.
Sokolich steered apologies from the governor toward the people affected by last September’s gridlock.
“Don’t cawl me,” he said, his accent reminding me of my Aunt Lillian’s. “But cawl the families who were waiting three, four times longer for . . . our ambulance corps to arrive.”
“I am heartbroken,” Christie said during yesterday’s 108-minute press conference, “that someone I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the past five years betrayed that trust.”
Do you trust the governor?
He joked last month about the absurd notion that he had something to do with the bridge’s closing, saying sarcastically, “I was the guy out there, in overalls and a hat. I actually was the guy working the cones out there.”
What did Christie know, and when did he know it?
Are his pants on fire, too?
If so, he’d better hope the bridges in the area are clear.
He may need some help putting out the flames.