If I were governor of New Jersey and really wanted to know whether my staff had any involvement whatsoever in a nasty political prank that closed lanes and gridlocked traffic on the George Washington Bridge in September as payback for the Fort Lee mayor’s refusal to endorse me, I would not do what Chris Christie did. That is, wait until December and then tell staffers that if they knew anything about the bridge mess, they had one hour to inform not me but my top underling or chief counsel.
I would pick the Christie approach if I suspected my staff was behind “Bridgegate” and wanted to cover my political backside so I could prevail in the 2016 GOP presidential primary. Mission accomplished. If Christie wanted plausible deniability, he got it.
At last week’s Homeric news conference, Christie actually appeared credible when he cringed at the “abject stupidity” of the lane closures, for which he fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly.
Quoth Christie: “The reason that the retribution idea never came into my head is because I never even knew that we were pursuing” the endorsement of Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, “and no one ever came to me to get me to try to pursue the endorsement in any way, so I never saw it as a serious effort.” If the campaign had been pushing Sokolich to back Christie, he explained, the campaign would have arranged for the governor to court the mayor. Didn’t happen.
Sokolich had said as much to CNN last week. “I don’t recall a specific request to endorse,” he told Wolf Blitzer. Since then, however, the Fort Lee Democrat’s memory apparently changed. Sokolich told The New York Times that a campaign staffer did ask him to endorse Christie — although Sokolich won’t name said campaign shill.
Critics hit Christie for talking too long — and too much about himself — during the Thursday presser. Wrong. Christie showed that he wasn’t afraid to take questions or answer them. Also, so far, no documents have linked him directly to the mother of all traffic jams.
As for Christie’s liberal mention of self, it was appropriate. Absent Christie, the national media wouldn’t have cared about this stuck-in-traffic story.
Did the story help him? No. The media now know a Christie weakness. The Jersey governor may be a solid guy, a Buick of a man, but he failed to check the pettiness of the crew that was running his machine. He’ll have to work on that.
On the plus side, the public saw a politician who understands that voters expect services in exchange for paying taxes — and they deserve real service.
To me, a Californian living under the heel of anti-car Democrats, this story has felt like a happy dream. An indignant Sokolich railed that the Bridgegate jam put his constituents “in harm’s way.” The lane closures blocked the George Washington Bridge for three days — and state lawmakers speedily investigated. If the same jam clogged the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, you would expect a lecture about single-occupancy vehicles and the need to use public transit. It would not be national news.