'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.

____________________________________________________

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Getty
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Programme Manager - Business Support Transformation, 1 year contract

£550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Walthamstow...

Head Of Development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This excitin...

PHP Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: PHP Developer...

MIDDLE EAST CURRENT AFFAIRS OFFICER

£27,000-£34,000 per annum: US Embassy: An office of the US Embassy based in Be...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor