Do you remember about three years ago (Monday morning, September 9th 2013, to be exact), when suddenly, three lanes of the George Washington Bridge – the busiest motor vehicle bridge on the planet – were suddenly and unexpectedly closed during the busiest commuting time of day? Hopefully you weren’t there trying to get to work, school, or an appointment on time – or heavens forbid, had a medical emergency.
That event, unscheduled and unannounced, threw the entire metro area into chaos for days, and put people’s lives in jeopardy. In one case, paramedics finally had to abandon their ambulance and respond to an emergency call on foot. One woman, 91-year-old Florence Genova, even died as a result because emergency medical personnel were unable to respond to her 911 call. Afterward, her daughter told the New York Times that she didn’t want to get involved in the issue. Expressing her opinion that “it was just her time,” she said, “It’s not political.”
It turns out that it indeed was political, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie knew it. It came out as Christie was called upon to testify at the opening of the trial that opened this week.
For months, Christie claimed he had no knowledge of any plans to close down the bridge – and even said that nobody had even said anything about it. But federal prosecutors have alleged that two members of Christie’s Administration at the time, David Wildstein and Bill Baroni of the local port authority, even boasted to Christie about the scheme.
Why did they do it? Political retribution. Christie was running for re-election in 2013, and the mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, refused to endorse his candidacy. Following that refusal, Christie’s chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly sent an email to her boss that said, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Four weeks later, there were indeed traffic problems. Messages from Mayor Sokolich to Port Authority deputy executive director Baroni, begging him to reopen the lanes, were disregarded.
All of this – including risking three lives and ending a fourth – was just because Christie and his buddies wanted a bit of political payback.
Ironically, there was little doubt that Christie was going to win re-election to the state House. But for him, it was a stepping stone to the White House; he believed he needed to win the governor’s race by a wide margin. In his mind, a Republican winning by a landslide in a largely Democratic state would demonstrate to the GOP establishment the viability of his candidacy.
Those Presidential ambitions have now gone by the bye, and today, he remains New Jersey’s governor (for now) and has signed on as the chairman of Donald Trump’s transition team. While that doesn’t mean much unless Trump actually wins the White House, should that unthinkable scenario come to pass, Christie would play a prominent role in Trump’s Administration.
It’s something to think about: while Christie himself has not been charged with any wrongdoing, the whole “Bridgegate” fiasco is a clear demonstration of the kind of operation he runs. As the current trial unfolds, we’re all likely to learn a whole lot more about his management style, his political priorities – and how far he’s willing to go in order to realize his own ambitions.