'Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee': Emails link New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's top aide to bridge closure scandal

Revelations certain to end embattled governor's presidential ambitions

Fort Lee, New Jersey

It’s telling that nearly anyone who identifies themselves as a Republican in Fort Lee today declines to give their full name when sharing what they think right now of Governor Chris Christie and the scandal of the closed lanes last September onto the George Washington Bridge. Retribution happens.

That is what is at the heart of the scandal that is swamping Mr Christie just as he was positioning himself as the favourite to fight to regain the White House for his party in 2016. Emails this week show that personal appointees and top aides ordered the closure of two traffic lanes from Fort Lee to the bridge over four days, triggering a monster traffic snarl-up, to punish the local mayor for not backing his re-election bid last year.

“If I saw him now, I’d say ‘Governor you’re in a deep hole, though that’s not the word I would really use,’” offers 84-year-old Jean M, who is waiting for an early-day pedicure at the Salon Mirage, just steps from one of the access lanes’ to the bridge, the busiest in the world. She quickly adds: “I mean deep s***.”

John, a regular user of the bridge - we’ll call him John (his wife works for the local Republican Party) - offers a still more unvarnished view of things. “He is history and he should resign,” he said bluntly. “He’s incompetent and he’s a bully. He’s a typical politician”.

Mr Christie wasn’t resigning. Rather, he was on his way here to offer his apologies to Fort Lee residents and for a separate face-to-face with its mayor, who is a Democrat, Mark Sokolich, for the same purpose. It was to be step two in a process of repentance that may or may not save his presidential ambitions.

Step one was a morning press conference and his announcing that he had fired a deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, identified as having unleashed this particular manure slide when she emailed David Wildstein, a high school friend of Christie and personal appointee at the Port Authority that manages the bridge, with this remarkable request: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”. He replied, “Got it”.

As vigorous as ever, Mr Christie was adamant he had zero idea of what Ms Kelly, with subsequent help from Mr Wildstein (he has already resigned) and another top Port Authority official, Bill Baroni, had set in train. Instead, when questions were starting to be asked before Christmas about what exactly had happened at the bridge, she had flatly lied about it, he insisted.

In his version, he was as astonished by the conspiracy - which snarled things so comprehensively three traffic-locked ambulances couldn’t get heart patients to hospitals and scores of children were late to school – as the rest of the political firmament. “I was blindsided... I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or execution and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.”

Stupid is one word. Petty, callous and vindictive are others. More than just the act of closing the lanes, it is also the tone of some of the texts and emails that followed that jars. Some made light of concerns about the school kids being held up. “They are children of Buono voters,” Mr Weildstein mocked in a reference to State Senator Barbara Buono, the Democrat who ran against Mr Christie in last year’s governors’ race. 

Another associate of Christie refers at one point Mayor Sokolich as “that little Serbian”. He is of Croatian background. In response to pleading messages form Sokolich to the Port Authority to do take action when the gridlock first set in, one message from a Christie associate read: “Is it wrong that I am smiling?” The messages also show some of the same people attempting a cover-up of what they had wrought.

More than 100 million vehicles pass over the George Washington Bridge every year More than 100 million vehicles pass over the George Washington Bridge every year

The Bridgegate affair, as it is called, will trail Christie for a long time. It hardly helps that the US Attorney in New Jersey has announced an official probe. When it comes to running for president, sometimes it is only one misstep that crashes the ship, especially if it resonates for a long time.

“People don’t forget,” says Jean, eyeing a box of Russian chocolates offered by the salon. It threatens to ruin a carefully cultivated image of a politician who cares first about taking care of people day to day and second about partisan gain, which was notably on show in responding to Super-Storm Sandy.

“He’s very two-faced,” Jean adds. “He has put out this wonderful picture of himself helping the people, saying I’m there for you, and then you see this. It’s just politics as usual.” It may also fuel a narrative already out there that behind the plain-talking politician is a man with sharp elbows with a tendency to punish and do harm to his enemies just as enthusiastically as he rewards his political friends. The bully.

“This is the epitome of crony politics,” says Sy Weiss, 83, a retired communications data business owner who, taking an oatmeal breakfast in a Fort Lee Starbucks, recalls not even being able to get into the driveway of his nearby apartment building at the time of the closures. As for the notion that Christie, however artful, can emerge from this intact in time to lead the national party in two years, forget it.

“The Republican Party is so ashamed of this guy that it’s over for him, he’s finished,” says Weiss, who votes Democrat. “They are not so stupid that they are going to choose a Mafia man like him. That is the impression that is left, isn’t it?” As for Mr Christie saying he was duped by his own staff, “bulls***,” says John, also in Starbucks. “If he didn’t know anything about it on day one, he surely did by day two.”

Back in Trenton Mr Christie was doing his darndest to repair matters. “I am a very sad person today.” Indeed. “I am who I am, but I am not a bully.” Maybe.

____________________________________________________

 

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
nflAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
News
news

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Norwegian Speaking Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive OTE: SThree: Progressive in Manchester...

IT Support Analyst - London - £22,000

£20000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chel...

Learning Support Assistants-Nantwich area

£8 - £9 per hour: Randstad Education Chester: We are currently recruiting for ...

Primary Teachers-Northwich area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Teachers- Northwich Ar...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London