On Monday, Sept. 19, federal prosecutors claimed that Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie was fully aware that three of his officials were complicit in the lane closures in Fort Lee leading to the Washington Bridge. The controversy, often referred to as “Bridgegate,” halted traffic in Fort Lee, causing major delays and traffic backups on the streets for five days. Governor Christie denied and continues to deny any knowledge regarding lane closures in the borough. Despite never being charged with conspiracy or perjury and a U.S. attorney not finding any evidence to bring charges against him, the debacle eroded public trust in Christie as a leader and called his integrity into question. As a result, several of Christie’s top officials and aides resigned or were fired.
During the trial of two of Christie’s aides, Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, prosecutors asserted that Baroni and another top official bragged to Christie about the lane closures during a Sept. 11 memorial service. Prosecutors explicitly said Baroni cited Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s failure to endorse Christie’s gubernatorial reelection campaign as the driving motivation behind the closures.
Additionally, prosecutors asserted, “Mr. Baroni, then the highest-ranking official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge, studiously ignored the mayor as he pleaded by text, email and a handwritten letter for the agency to reopen the lanes.” They suggested a massive coverup between Christie, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York and Bridget Kelly’s lawyer to mask the lane closures as a traffic study (The New York Times, “Chris Christie Knew About Bridge Lane Closings as They Happened, Prosecutors Say,” 09.19.2016).
The evidence the prosecutors provided is all but damning. In a highly centralized, micromanaged gubernatorial administration, how could one possibly believe the narrative that these officials acted completely outside of Christie’s realm of influence? One month before the closures, Bridget Kelly emailed David Wildstein, another Christie appointee who worked at Port Authority, “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
On Dec. 12, 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported an alleged phone conversation betweens Governors Christie and Cuomo, in which Christie complained about and attempted to end a Port Authority investigation into the lane closures. Christie denied the call, but The Wall Street Journal stuck by its story.
There are far too many incongruities in the Christie administration’s interpretations of Bridgegate for me to believe a word that he says. The arguments of federal prosecutors in court on Monday only reinforce this notion.
Federal prosecutors legitimizing the accusations against Christie as a manipulative bully and, more egregiously, a manipulative liar gives further credence to something I and many other New Jerseysans have been saying for a very long time: Chris Christie must resign or we must recall him.
Bridgegate is only one of many reasons why Christie is unfit to serve the State of New Jersey. After his failed presidential campaign, Christie endorsed Donald Trump. On the campaign trail, however, Christie lobbed many insults at Trump, including calling the GOP nominee a “13-year old” for skipping the Fox News debate before the Iowa caucuses.
While not ignoring the massively significant ethical implications of endorsing a racist demagogue, Christie’s choice of support underscores major flaws in political character. It is clear that this endorsement, and other expressions of support such as actively campaigning, of Trump was an act of bizarre and Machiavellian political pragmatism in an effort to remain politically relevant. The absurdly transparent decision was only rendered more embarrassing when Donald Trump elected to not choose Christie as his running mate for the general election.
While popular media mostly turned against him, this move was still largely at the expense of the people of New Jersey. Much of Christie’s travel, for both his presidential campaign and for Trump’s, has been on New Jersey’s dime.
Financial costs aside, Christie also eschewed his duties in favor of achieving national recognition. In the year 2015, Christie was out of state for 261 days. In Jan. 2016, he spent 24 of 31 days out of state. This gross neglect of state affairs is only further exacerbated by Christie’s continual ineffectiveness as a leader.
In May 2016, it was reported in Mendham Patch that the Office of Legislative Services said that New Jersey will collect $1.1 billion less in taxes than the Christie administration had promised. Governor Christie has refused to raise taxes to help remedy the situation. This massive budget hole, coupled with massive state debts and ongoing pension crises, serves as another misfire of Christie’s administration, whose financial mismanagement has led to New Jersey’s credit rating being downgraded nine times.
Poverty rates have increased substantially since 2009.
In 2015, New Jersey ranked dead last in economic growth in the United states, according to NJ.com.
On issues of education, Christie and other politicians in Trenton have significantly increased the weight of standardized testing when evaluating teacher performance, as of Sept. 2016. When the New Jersey Education Association rightfully pushed back on this decision and called for greater pedagogical freedom in the classroom, Christie referred to the organization as the “Mafia” (Education Week, “N.J. Gov Chris Christie Calls Teacher Union ‘Mafia’, Signs Education Bills,” 09.06.2016).
His constant antagonizing of teachers and other public workers, coupled with his substantial cuts to the pensions of these vital members of our labor force, highlights his warped gubernatorial priorities.
In 2013, Governor Christie attempted to weaken or overturn a critical ruling in the Mount Laurel fair housing case, which encouraged the construction of low-and-moderate income housing in the wealthy communities. Christie essentially tried to interpret the law as allowing these wealthy towns to decide on their own how much housing should actually be constructed. This would have effectively given agency to potentially hostile, classist local governments to halt the creation of any kind of affordable housing. Christie also attempted to defund the independent agency that regulates affordable housing in the state. Fortunately, the court upheld the original ruling and blocked any attempts to undermine it by Christie (The New York Times, “A Historic Fair Housing Decision Reaffirmed,” 09.30.2016).
Isn’t that almost cartoonishly villainous? Isn’t that stamping on the rights and livelihoods of low-income citizens, who are often disproportionately people of color?
A common thread runs through all of these anecdotes, from Bridgegate to his bizarre support for Donald Trump to his constant betrayal of New Jersey’s public workers. Governor Chris Christie, simply put, does not prioritize serving the people of New Jersey over his own interests. Time and time again, Christie has proved that he will put himself over taxpaying citizens whenever he’s granted the chance. The only achievement of note of his entire tenure as governor, to be fair, was his effectiveness as a unifying leader during Hurricane Sandy.
Chris Christie, if you can hear me: for the love of God, resign. And resign today, not tomorrow. Don’t wait until 2017, do it now. Our people can only take so much more of this. Your constant cowardice and self-serving political posturing have always been at our expense. It’s time to take responsibility for your failures and quit.
If you lack the political courage to resign, which I know you do, then it’s on the people of New Jersey to recall you.