New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s aspirations for the 2016 presidential bid may be tested by a series of recently released emails. These emails suggest Christie authorized lane closures that created traffic jams as a form of political payback aimed at a Democratic mayor.
Last Wednesday, emails were released that showed a top-level aide in the Christie administration had suggested to another longtime adviser that traffic issues should be created in the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey. A few weeks after those emails were sent, another leading government official directed the closure of several traffic lanes that led to George Washington Bridge. This caused major gridlock in the area and even delayed traffic for emergency vehicles and school buses.
The emails tied a top member of Christie’s inner circle to the lane closures. Democrats have alleged for some time that this was a type of retribution for the mayor of Fort Lee who did not endorse the governor’s bid for re-election in 2013.
In a statement given to the press after they were released, Christie said the content of the emails in question was unacceptable. He said that a member of his staff misled him and that the road closures were not sanctioned by him. He added that such behavior could not be tolerated and that the people of New Jersey deserved better.
Governor Christie is rumored to be a candidate for President in 2016. He had recently gained much popularity due to decisive actions after Hurricane Sandy as well as his ability to gain votes from minorities and women in a state that leans heavily toward the Democratic party. However, the possible idea of a powerful governor punishing a mayor for political purposes may test the spirit of bipartisan cooperation that Christie has worked relentlessly to model.
The emails were part of a large group of documents that subpoenaed by a group of Democratic lawmakers as the result of a subpoena. The subpoena was issued in conjunction with state government investigation into the Fort Lee traffic issue.
Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Bridget Anne Kelly told long time Christie friend and current adviser, David Wildstein in the emails that the time may have come for “some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein has been friends with the governor since high school.
Three weeks after that communication took place, Port Authority employees were directed by Wildstein to reduce the number of access lanes onto the George Washington Bridge. This bridge is an important travel connection between New York City and the suburbs. This reduction led to traffic problems in Fort Lee. The onslaught of traffic into that town was discovered only after David Foye, Executive Director with the bistate Port Authority discovered the issue and reversed the decision.
Numerous attempts to reach Kelly by cellphone have proved fruitless. An attorney for Wildstein told reporters that his client was declining to comment at this time. However, a motion has been filed by Wildstein to halt a subpoena for him to testify Thursday before state lawmakers.
This recent event has caused much uneasiness among many who were supportive of Christie making a run for the White House in 2016. To them, this situation may be a setback for Christie’s attempts to present himself as being a prime candidate for the Republican nomination.
Originally, the governor’s administration told reporters that the lane closures came out of a failed traffic study ordered by Wildstein. At that time, Christie had joked with the press that he had personally removed many of the traffic cones on his own. Wildstein resigned on December 13.
Another set of documents show some text messages exchanged during the time the lands were closed. While those documents were provided by the attorney for Wildstein, many portions are blacked out. However, what is not blacked out is incriminating enough. One text tells Wildstein they feel badly about the school buses being delayed by the lane closures. Wildstein replies that they are children of voters who supported the candidate who opposed the governor in the most recent election.
As many politicians are already considering the Presidential race in 2016, these emails may bring Governor Christie his first big test.
By Rick Hope