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That's the question American voters must confront and deal with in the wake of a scandal which seems like a parody of a Sopranos payback episode. Spoiler alert: the answer to the question is....yes, Christie really is that petty.
I have little doubt that the New Jersey governor will be able to claim plausible deniability over the four day traffic gridlock created in Ft. Lee, New Jersey last September when, with still no explanation forthcoming, the George Washington bridge was closed down to one lane. The bridge is the busiest in the entire country. The first day it was closed to one lane just happened to be the first day students returned to school.
Most of us are aware that today's political leaders now have mechanisms in place to avoid "knowing" anything, if you follow my drift. Christie is no exception. It's very convenient. Besides, Christie explained Thursday that the bridge closing was "not that big of a deal." We'll see.
No, Christie, himself, probably won't be directly implicated in this petty payback story......but that shouldn't matter. The political damage that should come his way because of this episode isn't about outright lawlessness anyway. It's about pettiness and payback.
What we know is that a former high school buddy of Chris Christie's, David Wildstein, was appointed to a plum job at the Port Authority....and without any experience in transportation necessary. That job paid $150K per year. That's the low hanging corruption which oozes out after virtually every election....but it's still the American way. We seem to thrive on political corruption. Ours, you see, is an "exceptional" American brand of corruption.
Mr. Wildstein....'is known inside the agency for his brash, often intimidating, style of management.' Sound familiar?
From a Wall Street Journal piece, we learn that Mr. Wildstein not only ordered the closing of bridge lanes but also...."....ordered that Mr. (Patrick) Foye (the executive director of the Port Authority) and local officials and police not be told in advance,.."
Reread that quote. That is what a 'smoking gun' looks like.
Chris Christie's highest executive appointee at the Port Authority was Bill Baroni. Mr. Baroni was Patrick Foye's counterpart. When the previously closed bridge lanes were about to reopen, this exchange between the two men took place....
“Pat we need to discuss prior to any communications,” Mr. Baroni wrote to Mr. Foye and Lisa MacSpadden, Mr. Foye’s spokeswoman.
“Bill we are going to fix this fiasco,” Mr. Foye wrote back.
“I am on way to office to discuss,” Mr. Baroni typed back from his iPhone. “There can be no public discourse.”
That appears to be an attempt at a coverup. Moreover.....
Mr. Baroni told lawmakers in November that the incident was the result of a traffic study to determine if the lanes should be permanently taken away from the local access ramp in Fort Lee and used for traffic coming from the local highway.
Mr. Foye, testifying under oath,....said he didn't believe Mr. Baroni's version of the events was true. "I'm not aware of any traffic study," he said.
The resignation came after Chris Christie complained in a phone call to New York Governor Cuomo that....'Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was pressing too hard to get to the bottom of why the number of toll lanes onto the bridge from Fort Lee, N.J. was cut from three to one in early September...'
Up to this moment, no one from Christie's office.....including the governor himself....has given an explanation for why the bridge lanes were closed in September....even though Wildstein and Baroni have both resigned and lawyered up.
My take so far. I see this incident as a continuation of Christie's brash, yet often petty, style of bully politics. Bullies are actually very unsure of themselves........which often results in actions which people would consider petty, even stupid. That brash bullying style is loved and admired by the likes of the Morning Blow team who can barely contain their excitement over the prospect of a bully president in 2016....but I'm not so sure a petty bullying governor is what a majority of voters is looking for in the next president.
To be sure....I doubt that Christie even knew about the ordered lane closings. Deniability, as I mentioned, is built in to the process. But that's not the point here anyway.
The point here is that Christie's most important appointments were of two of his closest buddies from high school who also seem to share the bullying style of the governor. Christie is known for his reputation of loyalty to his friends and ferocious antipathy towards his political enemies.
The Ft. Lee Democratic mayor refused to endorse Christie in his re-election bid. Christie wanted as many "bipartisan" endorsements as he could muster....as he built momentum for a presidential run. The Ft. Lee mayor refused.
Christie's bully-boy buddies knew just what to do next.
Yes, this story seems minor....but it isn't. The bridge lane closing story is a prime example of the petty, bullying style of leadership that Chris Christie would bring to the office of the presidency.
Keep your eye on this story as it develops further.