"Time for Some Traffic Problems in Fort Lee"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 8 2014 9:52 AM

"Time for Some Traffic Problems in Fort Lee"

By New Jersey politics standards, this is a pretty mundane scandal.

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

One month after his landslide re-election, a win that dazzled the national punditocracy like a leaked Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie started getting questions about an inexplicably petty municipal scandal. Democrats claimed that Christie had signed off on needless rush-hour lane closures in Fort Lee, a suburb of New York City and a sort of choke point for traffic, because the city's mayor didn't endorse him. For four days in September, three lanes were reduced to one lane. Asked about the accusation, Christie issued a clear denial—"absolutely not"—then explained just how irrelevant the mayor was. ("He was not somebody that was on my radar screen in any way.")

Shawn Boburg has obtained internal documents verifying that Christie aides put the squeeze on the town.

[T]hey show that one of the governor’s top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough’s access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta—a notion that Christie has publicly denied.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, one of three deputies on Christie’s senior staff, wrote to David Wildstein, a top Christie executive at the Port Authority, on Aug. 13, about three weeks before the closures. Wildstein, the official who ordered the closures and who resigned last month amid the escalating scandal, wrote back: “Got it.”

That's pretty suggestive, but it's not like the Christie aides basked in the suffering of Fort Lee commuters.

Oh, come on!

In one exchange of text messages on the second day of the lane closures, Wildstein alludes to messages the Fort Lee mayor had left complaining that school buses were having trouble getting through the traffic.
“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. ...

Christie has fired incompetent aides before and walked away with no visible scars. Honestly, this story might move him even closer to a presidential run. These messages became public after Democrats in the legislature opened an investigation and subpoenaed aides, something they were emboldened and able to do after Republicans failed to capitalize on Christie's win and gain seats in either house. Christie's got 12 to 18 months before it would be prudent to declare a run, when he can blow off the legislature and take non-Fort Lee-related questions from Iowans.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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