New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has put on a brilliant political performance at a press conference just a few minutes ago aimed at ending what has become known as “Bridgegate.” The governor has addressed the issue publicly and took questions, putting on a master class in how to handle a political crisis. The only thing that can damage him now is a revelation that, contrary to what he just told everyone, he did know about the nastiness before now.
In September, members of his staff and his appointees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey colluded to shut access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, NJ, to punish the mayor of that town for his failure to endorse the governor in his re-election bid. That bridge is the most traveled in America, connecting Fort Lee with northern Manhattan. By reducing the access to the toll booths, traffic came to a stand-still in Fort Lee.
The Bergen County Record revealed emails between his Deputy Chief of Staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and David Wildstein, an appointee to the Port Authority and high school pal of the governor. Ms. Kelly wrote in August, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Mr. Wildstein (who resigned some weeks ago) replied “Got it.” The traffic shenanigans began in September, with the first week of school.
Text messages the Record published read, “Is it wrong that I’m smiling,” the recipient of the text message responded to Wildstein. The person’s identity is not clear because the documents are partially redacted for unknown reasons. “No,” Wildstein wrote in response. “I feel badly about the kids,” the person replied to Wildstein. “I guess.” “They are the children of Buono voters,” Wildstein wrote, making a reference to Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate for governor, who lost to Christie in a landslide in November.
Mr. Christie fired Ms. Kelly today for lying to him. He began the press conference with “I need to apologize for my failure as governor to understand the true nature of this problem sooner.” He is going to Fort Lee to apologize in person to Mayor Mark Sokolich and to the people of the town. And he is taking total responsibility despite being “blindsided,” saying it all happened “under my watch.”
In his part of the country, there is an expression, “a stand-up guy.” It means someone who plays straight, admits to short comings and takes the heat for mistakes. Mr. Christie, whom this journal still believes to be a rightist blowhard, is truly a stand-up guy. His judgment and management style are still open to question, but they are minor compared to the fire he just put out.
The issue isn’t at an end. The US Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey has opened an inquiry. “The Port Authority Office of Inspector General has referred the matter to us, and our office is reviewing it to determine whether a federal law was implicated,” Rebekah Carmichael said in a statement.
However unless evidence shows that Mr. Christie has lied today about any of this, the matter is over for him. And he has probably won a few fans over with his forthright approach.