Chris Christie has a problem. Emails have emerged showing that Christie’s staff closed lanes on a major bridge in September in order to exact political retribution against Democrats. The shutdowns caused massive traffic jams in Fort Lee, whose Democratic mayor had refused to join other leading Dems who were endorsing Christie.
One email, from a top Christie aide to a Port Authority official with ties to Christie, said: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” The official responded: “Got it.”
The next month, according to Politico, two of the town’s lanes to the George Washington Bridge were closed, causing lengthy backups during the course of a week. One local columnist described the result as a “disaster” that “quadruple[d] commuting time for some of the people who live closest to one of the nation’s busiest bridges.”
During the week of the lane closures, an unnamed person emailed, “I feel badly about the kids.” The Christie supporting Port Authority man replied: “They are the children of Buono voters.” Buono, of course, was Christie’s opponent in the gubernatorial race, which Christie was always going to win decisively with or without the support of Fort Lee’s mayor.
As Politico says, this story reinforces Christie’s image as a bully. But bullying is one thing; deliberately causing massive inconvenience for one’s constituents in a act of political pique is another.
Christie will no doubt deny knowledge that his aides were closing lanes. And absent evidence to the contrary, we should presume that he didn’t know.
But Christie has insisted that his staff played no role in the lane closures. Indeed, according to Politico, he mocked reporters for asking about the issue when it emerged months ago. So even assuming that Christie didn’t know about the vindictive acts of his staffers when they occurred, he still has a problem.
There is also the question of the tone Christie sets as governor. It seems almost unimaginable that a aides to a serious public figure would pull the kind of stunt that occurred here. Why did Christie select such staffers? Is it because petty, vindictive, in-your-face staffers appeal to him? And did his in-your-face style create an environment where inducing traffic problems out of political spite seemed like a good idea?
We like to judge politicians based on their policy positions, and that’s the main way they should be judged. But policy positions change based on which way the wind is blowing and the nature of the office being sought.
Temperament and personality don’t change so easily. And they also matter.
UPDATE: Christie is denying all knowledge of the scheme to create traffic problems. He says he only learned of it today, a staff member having misled him about what had transpired. But shouldn’t Christie have been more thorough in getting to the bottom of this matter, assuming that he finds the lane closure as “outrageous” as he now says?
That said, and also taking into account the questions of “tone” that I raised above, I still doubt that this matter will hurt Christie’s long-term presidential prospects, assuming that his denials hold up. Things might be different if Christie were an unknown quantity. But there’s so much else about which to form a judgment on Christie that, when the dust settles, the lane closure will probably be like a drop in the bucket.