Though this time the spotlight is mostly on Chris Christie’s friends, or ex-friends, as he’s pretty much unfriended the lot of them, which he should have done before they committed the mean, nasty deed that cooked all their geese and singed Christie’s political feathers good in the process.
Last Friday a federal investigation on the bridge lane closings culminated in criminal charges being brought against Bill Baroni and Bridget Ann Kelly, nine counts each, while David Wildstein, perhaps moved to contrition by the 15-year prison sentence he, too, could have faced for each count, pleaded guilty and cooperated with law enforcement officials in exchange for a lighter sentence. Thus David Wilderstein recounted to the criminal investigators in detail how he, Bill Baroni, and Bridget Ann Kelly gleefully planned having the bridge lanes closed in a way that would cause the longest wait and the most suffering for drivers and passengers, including the children who would be stuck on their school buses for hours on the first day of school. They’d give no advance warning to allow drivers to find an alternate route. They told the unwitting Port Authority workers that the lanes needed to be closed for a traffic study. They agreed that when Mayor Sokolich called for help he’d be ignored.
Then, with all the carefully-coordinated details of their plan in place, they waited with anxious excitement for the first day of school to arrive.
They couldn’t have hoped for a better result. On the first day of school the George Washington Bridge was a massive parking lot. Emergency vehicles couldn’t get through. Mr. Wildstein went to check on the state of the bridge and happily reported back to Bill Baroni and Bridget Ann Kelly that that the traffic in Fort Lee was a disaster.
Meanwhile Mayor Sokolich’s urgent calls for help to Bill Baroni at the Port Authority were ignored. Baroni forwarded Sokolich’s text and email pleas to Wildstein and Baroni and the three had a good laugh, at one point joking about the things they’d done in the past and might do in the future to other mayors and community leaders who fell out of favor with Chris Christie.
Sokolich begged Baroni for help, calling the situation on the bridge a “life/safety” issue. In fact one elderly woman in cardiac arrest died because the EMS was not able to get through the gridlock on the bridge. Finally Sokolich called the governor’s office. When one of Ms. Kelly’s staff members informed her of the horrible traffic problem in Fort Lee Ms. Kelly replied, “Good”. In response to an email from Bill Baroni that those children stuck on the bus for hours were probably Democrats’ children, Ms. Kelly texted back, “Is it wrong that I am smiling?"
The lane closings went on for another day and a half until the director of the New York Port Authority heard about the gridlock on the bridge and, in defiance of Bill Baroni, sent in workers to re-open all the lanes on the bridge. Soon afterwards the George Washington Bridge lane closings blew up into a scandal and Baroni, Wildstein, and Kelly were fired and under criminal investigation.
And Christ Christie was in the hot seat.
And now that David Wildstein has spilled every bean on his partners in crime and a federal indictment has been handed down against them Christie is in the hot seat once again. He claims that he knew nothing about this plot cooked up by his hand-picked minions. He claims that the results of the federal investigation have exonerated him of any involvement in the Bridge scandal.
But the case isn’t really closed yet. Because even though now Bill Baroni and Bridget Ann Kelly are screaming “liar, liar!” at their former friend David Wildsten and proclaiming their innocence, when the possibility of a long stretch of prison time starts staring them in the face, who knows, they might just decide to spill a few more beans of their own, some of which may roll in Chris Christie’s direction.
But if even Chris Christie truly had no idea about the bridge lane-closing plot, his ignorance isn’t likely to do him much good politically at this point. Because even if he were innocent in this case, everyone knows he’s guilty of surrounding himself with people who behave more like Mafioso than dedicated public officials who care about the people whose welfare they’re supposed to be advocating for.
As for me, though I may have once liked Chris Christie, now I wouldn’t vote for him for anything. But next time I’ll tell you who I would vote for.
1. “U.S. Case details Bridge Jam Timed For School Start”, Kate Zernike, The New York Times, May 2, 2015.
2. “Two Indicted in New Jersey Bridge Scandal; ally of Christie Pleads Guilty”, Kate Zernnike and Mark Santora, The New York Times, May 2, 2015.
3. “Cloud Descends on Governor’s White House Hopes”, Michael Barbaro, The New York Times, May 2, 2015.