What Really Happened
Some experts believe the so-called “bridge scandal”— a traffic study that closed two lanes of the George Washington Bridge for a few days in September 2014, which became the mother of all rush-hour commuter problems — is reponsible for turning Gov. Chris Christie from a front runner in 2012 to an also ran in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination sweepstakes, as well as marring his reputation for honesty and telling it as it is. How sad this is. Especially because it was all a case of breakdown in communication.
After months of investigation, I can now reveal the true story of what really happened. Here is how it all went down:
The scene. One day in late August 2013.
The Governor’s executive office. Trenton.
The Governor has just returned from fulfilling a campaign promise of lunching at every fast food establishment on Route 1, between Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion in Princeton, to the New Jersey State House at 125 West State Street, Trenton. While Taco Bell is right up there in his heart with the Liberty Bell, he treats all constituents equally, regardless of cuisine differences. Take- out menus litter the desks: Chinese. Italian. Wendy’s. Bob’s BBQ.
In his inner office, with his closest political advisers, the governor is engrossed in planning his campaign strategy should he ever decide to run for President. How many times should he go to New Hampshire on trade missions – four or five times, when he’s not even a candidate? How long should he deny he’s a candidate, even though he had decided to run after the last words of Nixon’s “I’m No Crook” farewell address? At this point in time, his campaign was running so smoothly, the non-candidate was working on the first hundred days of his administration. Would Ted Cruz run INS? Would Rand Paul take Secretary of Defense?
In the suite’s adjoining outer office, staff members Kelly and her team are discussing ordinary day-to-day operations of the Christie administration. On this day, they were brainstorming about how to get even with the Mayor of Fort Lee. The door between the two offices is open, collegial style.
While it is true the governor had a personal enemies list—paying homage to his political idol, a New Jersey resident, Richard Nixon of Saddle River—why would he want to punish the Fort Lee mayor? Just because he hadn’t endorsed him in the 2013 gubernatorial race? Why would anybody need to punish Fort Lee politically? As Fort Lee goes, as it is said, so goes Cliffside Park. It is just another one of the 70 towns in Bergen County.
It made absolutely no sense for him to go out of his way to punish Fort Lee. But his close friend and alleged crooked real estate lawyer, David Sansom, had a beef. The mayor of Fort Lee was being obstreperous, blocking development plans for a major client of Wolf & Samson, of which the governor’s pal was founder and partner.
At the time the governor’s favorite alleged crooked real estate lawyer—you should know New Jersey has more alleged crooked real estate lawyers per capita than any state in the union — was serving as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a job given him by Christie. Sansom and Christie are a romance, like the Sansom and Delilah of New Jersey politics.
Sansom’s major achievement was keeping the Port Authority focused on real estate development. The Authority had been handing out money and contracts so lavishly to raise more office towers in downtown Manhattan, even though there were not enough tenants to fill earlier PA white elephant towers, the area could someday be called Sansomtown.
Some critics thought toll money could be better used for more boring projects, such as improving mass transit, and building new tunnels so commuters could get to Sansomtown.
But now the Fort Lee mayor was giving agita to Sansom‘s law firm clients, blocking a grandiose twin towers project overlooking the George Washington Bridge that would create traffic problems in Fort Lee.
Aside from his well-known over-eating problem, the governor has a lesser-known physical handicap. He is also hard-of-hearing. He doesn’t even know he is raising his voice, when others claim he is shouting.
As distracted as he was poring over voting trends, gerrymandered voting districts in Iowa and South Carolina, from the corner of his eye, he saw something in the adjoining office that alarmed him. The door of the office refrigerator— containing mid-afternoon snacks, half a $5 Subway 6-Foot, a slice of local pizza even better than Ray’s Original, a half-empty Hagen Daz quart (he reportedly has one artery filled with Häagen-Dazs vanilla)— was open.
He called out to his staffers, “Close the fridge!” His inner circle, sensitive to his every word, went into action. Emails raced back and forth to David Wildstein, another governor appointee, a high school friend who he claimed to have barely known at Livingston High, yet gave a 150 K job at the Port Authority, with no specified job description.
Out of which came those immortal words that will live in the annals, “Close the fridge.”
Little did the governor or his staff realize the direction to keep the inner sanctum refrigerator at the manufacturer’s suggested 39 degrees would turn into “close the bridge” —the reason so many New Hampshire voters are now citing as the reason they no longer support the best governor New Jersey has.
It’s not his seemingly calculated plan to ignore his own state’s insoluble problems: a bankrupt transportation fund, so bridges and roads can’t be fixed; pension obligations being ignored; economic growth next to last in the nation; credit rating lowered six times; people leaving the state in droves because of high taxes, an unbalanced budget! All are in his rear view mirror now because of his patriotic ambition to come to the aid of his country as a contender for the Republican nomination. All dreams quashed by a slip of the lip!
How sad, as I’ve said.
This is my story, and I’m sticking to it.
August 19, 2015