Remain Calm, Etc. : Of Bridges, Tolls, and Trolls
Posted January 9, 2014on:
Good Thursday, Widdershins.
New Jersey is second only to Florida as a truly fun state. Home to The Sopranos, the State probably has found ways to actually surpass Florida in seamy corruption, while leaving the truly weird to we Sunshiners. I mean, in what other state has a money laundering/kidney sales ring comprised of mayors, vice-mayors, and Rabbis been apprehended?
Oh, what fun we are having in New Jersey these days! The Chris Christie Juggernaut keeps rolling along, but the current trajectory might just veer off-course from the presumed destination of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In order to end up in the White House, Christie will have to figure how to detour around one helluva bridge washout, among other things.
It would seem that this man who is the very caricature of a loud-mouthed schoolyard bully might be just what he seems. This no-nonsense, straight-talking, law-and-order, never-lost-a-case federal prosecutor has piled up quite a record in the retribution department. Until the GW Bridge debacle, however, most of the behavior was ultra-personal, and for the most part, ultra-petty.
Let’s go back to 2010. A New Jersey assemblyman made the comment on a radio program that expressed his surprise at Christie’s aggressive attitude toward public employees, who had been some of the Governor’s loudest supporters. To his surprise, he received a handwritten note from Christie, which expressed his displeasure in no uncertain terms. Christie continued his attack on public employees, most especially on teachers, basking in his glory. When one teacher expressed concern about some policies, Christie insisted that the man join him. When the teacher demurred, he was “escorted” to the Governor by the New Jersey State Patrol who were stationed in the hall. He lectured the man, then told him to leave the room. Way to go, Guv! You are large and in charge.
Further, he doesn’t always get it right. Christie was angered by a presumed block on a couple of nominees to the point where he called a press conference and called a State Senator out by name, accusing the senator of obstructionism. Turns out that the senator not only did not obstruct, but actually attempted to hasten the confirmations. No matter – the senator who had briefly served as Governor after McGreevey’s resignation, discovered that his security detail (given pro forma to all former Governors) had been cancelled at Christie’s behest. If that wasn’t enough, his family and friends were summarily dismissed from state jobs. Apparently, while New Jersey can giveth, old Chris can taketh away. Keep that in mind, ye knaves.
And woe be onto ye, Alan Rosenthal, the Rutgers professor who was chosen as the tie-breaking vote for the redistricting commission. Despite pressure from Christie to go with the Republican plan, Rosenthal thought that the Democratic proposal was much more balanced and reasonable. Shortly thereafter, $169,000 of his research cash was retracted from the budget by line-item veto. Take that, fool.
Even Republicans have learned the hard way to not annoy the Guv. During the blizzard of 2010 while the Christie family frolicked at Disney World, one of the Repub State Senators made an offhand comment about better planning being required. The Governor dug himself out of the avalanche of criticism about his failure to abort his vacation plans (and we all know that Chris hates abortion) by holding a press conference in the Senator’s district, and advising said Senator that he would not be welcome at the event. Amazingly, a way was found to eliminate that particular Senatorial seat. Surprise! (In better news, the senator was elected to a seat in the assembly, and is still politically viable – for the moment.)
Firefighters were huge Christie supporters. One of the state officer of the IOFF commented that he felt as though the governor and the unions were talking past one another, and meant the comment as a peace-offering to Christie. Imagine his surprise when he received a call from the Guv’s office. The message was too obscene to print, and apparently repeated more than once so that there would be no misunderstanding. Take that, IOFF. The Guv is displeased.
I must admit that Christie was stellar after Superstorm Sandy, but the aftermath has been bumpy. Homeowners at the Jersey Shore are mumbling about their federal funds which do not appear to be trickling in their direction, although extensive repairs have been made to the Boardwalk. More repairs were made after a fire, and an enormous amount of money was spent on a tourism commercial featuring the Christie family. In the meantime, homeowners are still living with relatives, and they are less than thrilled. (Wait until they see their new insurance rates. If it goes anything like Florida’s did under Republican administrations, they are in for some genuine sticker shock as rates soar by 500-1000%.)
Now, don’t get me wrong. Apparently those who play ball with Christie are nicely rewarded with great box seats to the Giants game, and all of the perks that courtiers could want. I suppose saying “no” is out, as Christie seems to be one of those guys you don’t say “no’ to, unless you really want your standard of living to become sub-standard in short order,
As bad as all these peccadilloes might seem, none of them seemed to matter until the recent screw-up with the George Washington Bridge lane closures. Now suddenly, everyone seems to recall this growing list of political paybacks that would make the Nixon White House blush. I admit, none of them could possibly hold a candle to the GWB fiasco, but the pattern of punitive politics has been right there for years. True, the GWB screw-up is a doozie, and all of Governor Christie’s protestations that he/his people had absolutely no malicious intent are being buried by a sudden torrent of “resignations”.
I’m certain that you have read of the GWB situation, so I shall hit only the highlights. Although Christie easily carried the Ft. Lee area (as well as the state by some 24 points) in last year’s election, the Democratic mayor declined to endorse him. Soooo ,on September 9th, aka “the first day of school”, two of three lanes from Ft. Lee to the GWB were closed, creating one helluva traffic snarl in the lone remaining open tollbooth. Commuters, buses, police cars, and at least four ambulances were hopelessly stuck in traffic over a four day period. One of the four patients being transported to the hospital died shortly after arrival, although, being as how that poor soul was 91 years old, traffic may not be the direct cause of death here. Suffice to say that the back-up did not enhance chances for recovery. Worse yet was the delay in the search for a missing 4 year old child. In a press conference, Christie insisted that this mess was a traffic study, and furthermore he was “sauced” that one little town demanded three ramps. Waaaay too many, by his reckoning. Further, he tried sarcasm, insisting that he had actually put out the cones himself, cleverly disguised in a pair of overalls. In a mid-December presser, Christie was still protesting that this exercise in mayhem was a traffic study, only maybe his appointee (who had conveniently resigned by then) had messed up by not clearing said traffic study with the head of the Port Authority. The Governor insists that this was not retributive in any way, shape, form, or fashion. However, the more he insists that this isn’t payback, the more that everyone seems to recall all of the incidents that so clearly were. This is going to be a problem, methinks. It may also prove difficult to explain why he never, even once, said that he felt badly about the problems caused.
Wednesday brought more dimension to the situation. The New jersey Legislature issued a subpoena for emails from Christie’s top aides, and was rewarded with some zingers. Emails discuss the need for traffic closures, and mirth over children unable to get to school because they are the children of “Buono voters”. (Uh, Christie carried Ft. Lee – remember?) The Huffington Post has an article with a link near the end that will take you to some copies of the emails, albeit heavily redacted, and you will doubtlessly find them interesting reading. The Governor’s reaction was to cancel an appearance today, and I do not blame him. The world of Republican politics may be a bit more quiet until he figures out his next move, which will be how to explain how this all happened. Whether he was involved or not involved, he is perceived to be running his state by methods designed to reward friends and crush enemies, and the responsibility for such a culture is all his.
UPDATE: A very contrite Chris Christie held a press conference this am. Several employees have been tossed off of the bridge, and he has finally apologized and taken the ultimate responsibility for the matter. He also stated that he was not a bully, and I imagine that we can look forward to that clip running on an endless loop while folks who dispute the statement tell their said little tales during the next political season. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, traffic permitting.
This is an open thread.
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