For more than a year, Chris Christie has been plagued by the so-called Bridgegate scandal that arose from the actions of some of his closest staff.
The investigations into this scandal have led to a greater focus on Christie’s other misdeeds and the culture of corruption he has fostered in his administration.
On September 9, 2013, aides to Chris Christie ordered the closure of traffic lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey, leading on to the George Washington Bridge during the morning rush hour, creating four days of traffic jams and chaos for commuters.
Upon investigation, it was revealed that the lane closures were coordinated by senior Christie staffers and political appointees,with speculation they were ordered as political retribution against Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, for refusing to endorse Christie for reelection.
As reported by the New York Times, “Mr. Christie was cruising to re-election over Ms. Buono in the fall, but he and his campaign were leaning on local Democratic officials to endorse him so that he could pitch himself to national Republicans as the presidential nominee who could attract broad bipartisan support.”74 Some of the 50 Democrats who endorsed Christie “whispered that they feared the governor would withhold state money or favor if they did not go along.”75
The New York Times further reported that “emails and texts revealed that a top aide had ordered the closings to punish the town’s mayor after he did not endorse the governor for re-election,” including the infamous email from Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, to David Wildstein, which read, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”76 At the time, Wildstein, a high school friend of Christie’s, was employed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge.77 It was also revealed that staff from Christie’s administration, staff from his reelection campaign, and his political appointees at the Port Authority “were all intimately involved in discussing the growing scandal and how to react to it even as it was unfolding.”78 Christie “denied knowledge of the emails and said his staff was to blame.”79
As a result of the scandal, several Christie staffers and appointees either resigned or were fired, including Christie-appointed Port Authority Chair David Samson,80 Port Authority officials David Wildstein and Bill Baroni,81 Christie’s deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly,82 and Christie’s campaign manager and nominee to head the Republican Party of New Jersey, Bill Stepien.83
Christie later hired a law firm to investigate the lane closures, but the report the firm produced was widely seen to be a “whitewash” attempt.84 Through August 2014, the investigations into Christie’s Bridgegate scandal and the legal defense of Christie officials had cost New Jersey taxpayers more than $7 million.85 86
In the wake of Bridgegate, several other allegations of bullying and corruption were made against Christie’s administration:
Mayor Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken, New Jersey, accused the Christie administration of requiring her to approve a pet project of the governor’s in exchange for providing her locality much needed Superstorm Sandy relief funds.87
Retaliation against Democratic Mayors
Two Democratic mayors have accused Christie of retaliating against their citizens because the mayors did not abide by Christie’s agenda:
Mayor Steve Fulop, who was courted by the Christie administration as soon as he was elected,88 said he received “rough treatment” from Christie’s office after he announced he would not endorse the governor,89 including having meetings canceled “within an hour” of his announcement.90
In 2010, the Christie administration decided to close three DMV offices across the state, including the office in Elizabeth – the state’s fourth-largest city, and a low-income, majority-minority area.91 Christie’s office claimed the Elizabeth DMV was closed because of “low customer volume,” but Mayor Christian Bollwage called the move “extremely partisan.”92
Superstorm Sandy Aid for Communities Not Affected by the Storm
The Christie administration may have used federal storm recovery money to reward communities where local leaders showed political support for the governor:
The town of Belleville, New Jersey, was largely untouched by Superstorm Sandy, yet a controversial senior housing project in the town was allocated $10 million in federal Sandy recovery funds.93 In May 2013, Democratic Belleville Mayor Raymond Kimble said he would endorse Christie’s reelection because “I think the Governor is going to help the town of Belleville with certain projects we need.”94 Two weeks later, Sandy recovery funds were allocated to Belleville by the Christie administration for the development.95
New Brunswick lost relatively little housing in Superstorm Sandy, yet the town received $4.8 million in federal Sandy recovery funds for a new high-rise apartment building.96
Dropped Corruption Charges
In 2010, Hunterdon County Sheriff Deborah Trout and two deputies were prosecuted in a “43-count grand jury indictment” by the county for “hiring deputies without conducting proper background checks, and making employees sign loyalty oaths.”97 Charges also included manufacturing fake police badges for a Christie donor and threatening a critic.98
Members of the grand jury said the indictment was a “no-brainer.”99 Christie-appointed Attorney General Paula Dow, however, “in a highly unusual move, sent a deputy attorney general… to assume control of the Hunterdon prosecutor’s office,” and then dropped the indictments against all three defendants, leading Detective Sgt. Kenneth Rowe to write, “‘I have never seen a prosecutorial agency act or work as a defense counsel. Why the interest in this small-time case?’”100
Trout had ties to Christie’s lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, who previously served as a sheriff in Monmouth County, New Jersey.101 According to the New York Times, “Ms. Guadagno and Ms. Trout exchanged chatty e-mails,” and “after the election, Ms. Guadagno thanked Sheriff Trout for sending her deputies to work on the campaign.”102
Christie continues to grapple with several ongoing investigations into his administration’s actions: federal prosecutors from New Jersey and New York, along with the New Jersey state legislature and federal agencies in Washington, D.C., continue to investigate the activities of the Port Authority under Christie’s watch.103 While some of Christie’s closest aides and advisers have held prominent positions at the Port Authority during his administration, it remains to be seen whether the Bridgegate scandal or any other will implicate Christie himself.104