Let us ponder New Jersey's thugocracy, where the guy in charge gives new meaning to the term bully pulpit, where public servants entrusted with the public good have yet to learn the most fundamental lesson of politics: A scandal is inevitably made worse by the drip drip drip of disclosure.
At a press conference on Dec. 13, Chris Christie said he had "absolutely no reason to believe" that anyone on his staff or in his administration had closed George Washington Bridge access lanes to Fort Lee as retaliation for the mayor's refusal to endorse his re-election. And shortly thereafter, when a Jersey newspaper invoked the state Public Records Act and requested the emails of the Christie flunky at the Port Authority who had ordered the closures, the governor's office replied that it "has not identified any records that are responsive to your request."
The coverup worked - until yesterday, when those emails were released in the wake of a subpoena. Lo and behold, we got the smoking gun. Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly ordered, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." David Wildstein, the pliable Christie appointee at the Port Authority, dutifully replied, "Got it."
And when the "traffic problems" hit hard, choking the access lines and the town streets over a four-day span, Team Christie was gleeful. Stuck on buses, the town's kids were repeatdely late for school. The mayor - a Democrat, punished for endorsing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono - texted Christie officials about the schoolchildrens' plight: "Help please. It's maddening." Somebody on the Christie email thread promptly mused, "It is wrong that I am smiling?"
The smiler also wrote, "I feel badly about the kids...I guess." But he was quickly disabused of his bad feelings by another emailer who told him, "They are the children of Buono voters." Because apparently, in New Jersey, not all children are to be treated equal. If they live in a town where the mayor refuses to genefluct, then they shall be treated as political pawns.
As for the mayor, Mark Sokolich, well, too bad for him. Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien emailed Bill Baroni (another Christie appointee at the Port Authority) to say, "The mayor is an idiot." To which Baroni chortled, "It will be a tough November for this little Serbian." (The mayor is Croatian.)
And did you know that, on at least four occasions, medical teams couldn't speedily respond to emergencies because their ambulances were stuck in traffic? In one instance, it took nearly an hour for the ambulance to reach a guy who had chest pains. In another instance, the ambulance was delayed in reaching an unconscious 91-year-old woman who later died of cardiac arrest. It would be wrong to imply that the lane closures effectively caused her death, but so what? Imperiling public safety is bad enough.
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But supposedly Christie - who touts himself as a take-charge guy - didn't know anything about anything. In a written statement late yesterday, he said he was "misled" by his staff. In a press conference today, he declared, "I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or it execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity." Yeah, well. The populist editorial writers at the New York Daily News offer this pungent rejoinder: "In the best possible light, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie built a top staff of lying thugs who threatened lives and safety to serve his political ends. If not, Christie is a lying thug himself."
Maybe that's too strong. Maybe it's wiser to simply point out that a swaggering staffer who announces "Time for traffic problems in Fort Lee" is merely breathing the air of the Christie ecosystem. He's the one who created the payback climate. (Did you hear the true story about the ex-guv who crossed Christie, whereupon the State Police pulled his police escort?) Bottom line is, it's Christie's world; his staffers merely live in it.
And it's striking how few Republicans and conservatives are defending him. Even Christie mentor Tom Kean calls the emails "a big deal, because they were saying there's no connection to the governor's office." The conservative website Human Events said, "The nasty tone of these emails is going to haunt the Christie people....Note to anyone who thinks this is overblown: that stuff about children being made late to school is going to put a lot of air in the scandal balloon."
I suggested here on Dec. 18 that few voters in the '16 Republican primaries would care about bridge lane closures back in 2013. I still believe that - assuming that Christie is still viable. But first he has to weather this drip-drip scandal, a scandal that resonates with the average Joe. And why does his bridge-bullyism resonate? Because if there's one thing Americans love more than guns, it's cars. We all hate sitting in traffic - and that's when it's not a manmade revenge plot.
As for Mayor Sokolich, he was prodded on national TV last night to offer his assessment of the Christie guy who followed orders and closed the lanes. His response: "David Wildstein deserves an ass-kicking."
Ah yes, Jersey politics. With guys like Big Chris and the Croatian, who needs Paulie Walnuts?