Thursday, January 09, 2014

A bridge too congested

If we're looking to assign a title to this particular scandal, "Jackassery in Jersey" may well suffice.

The mystery of who closed two lanes onto the George Washington Bridge — turning the borough of Fort Lee, N.J., into a parking lot for four days in September — exploded into a full-bore political scandal for Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday. Emails and texts revealed that a top aide had ordered the closings to punish the town’s mayor after he did not endorse the governor for re-election.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to Mr. Christie, emailed David Wildstein, a high school friend of the governor who worked at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge.

Later text messages mocked concerns that school buses filled with students were stuck in gridlock: “They are the children of Buono voters,” Mr. Wildstein wrote, referring to Mr. Christie’s opponent Barbara Buono.

Mr. Christie denied knowledge of the emails and said his staff was to blame. The growing scandal threatens to tarnish him at the moment he assumes an even larger position on the national stage, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and an all-but-certain candidate for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016.
In a nearly two-hour press conference Thursday, Gov. Christie apologized for the debacle while claiming no knowledge of this plot. Given that Christie is considered by some as the top GOP contender for President in 2016, this was a golden opportunity to show how he can perform in crisis mode. If indeed Christie was not aware of the shenanigans which led to the lane closures, he acquitted himself quite nicely.

A good number of Christie apologists were quick to point out that, while under President Obama's watch, such scandals as the IRS denying tax exempt status to right-of-center political groups or the Dept. of Justice issuing subpoenas for phone records of the Associated Press didn't receive nearly the scrutiny as the GWB lane closures. And while that may be true, that misses the a greater point. The fact is all three scandals have a very common thread: government officials/bureaucrats abusing their power. That is (and should be) the main focus of this Fort Lee story. But unlike the aforementioned scandals that plagued the Obama administration, heads actually rolled in New Jersey as Gov. Christie fired Kelly in light of these revelations.

So will this particular scandal hurt Christie's presidential prospects? If indeed he is cleared in an investigation conducted by the U.S. attorney, then I highly doubt it. However, if Gov. Christie was somehow complicit in this, his political career would be over the millisecond that information is made public. And for what? Because he didn't get an endorsement from a Democrat mayor? It was pretty clear as early as this past summer that Christie going to win reelection in a walk (and he did, becoming the first Republican in 25 years to win a statewide election with at least 50% of the vote). To think that not receiving a public nod from Mayor Mark Sokolich would be the motivation for this would lead me to believe that Christie is not very politically savvy. Even his most ardent detractors would have a tough time swallowing that one. So if the motive were not political, what else would be Christie's motivation? The only other traits that would possess someone in the executive branch of government to act in this manner would be spite and/or petulance. And if that is somehow the case (I personally don't believe it is) then Christie quite obviously isn't fit to serve as a city councilor, much less leader of the free world.

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