AP Photo | Mel Evans
Chris Christie is being investigated in a second bridge scandal, according to a report from the New York Times. The investigation — which the Times sourced to “people briefed on the matter” — centers on renovations to the Pulaski Skyway.
The Skyway, which opened in 1932, is notoriously unreliable. (“Unpredictable traffic congestion and its functionally obsolete design makes the Skyway one of the most unreliable roads in the United States,” Wikipedia helpfully notes.) The bridge closed to Northbound traffic as part of a massive overhaul in April. In 2010 and 2011, Christie wanted to use Port Authority money for repairs on the obsolete bridge. The problem? The Port Authority doesn’t own the bridge, the state does, and so it couldn’t.
But Christie persisted, and the authority justified the use of the money by calling the Skyway an access route to the Lincoln Tunnel. The Skyway actually connects to the Holland Tunnel, which is not eligible for Port Authority funds. The money for Skyway repairs was coming from the $3 billion in Port Authority money freed up when Christie killed the ARC trans-Hudson tunnel project in 2010.
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Chris Christie’s threading a very difficult needle: He’s mounting what looks like the early stages of a presidential campaign even as federal charges loom against some of his former aides in the “Bridgegate” scandal — a development that could also ensnare him.
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One gets the sense that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie believes Bridgegate is somebody else’s problem — because it certainly ain’t his.
Case in point: Christie spent the weekend mingling in Utah with the GOP’s top donors, and let them know that the Bridgegate scandal won’t be a problem if (when) he runs for president in 2016.
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[Update 1:30 pm] The Inquirer reports:
Gov. Christie’s chief of staff testified today before the legislative panel probing the George Washington Bridge lane closures that he had nothing to do with the controversy.
Kevin O’Dowd said he wanted to start the hearing “by making very clear to the committee that I had no prior knowledge of, or played no role in, the decision to close the lanes at the bridge last September.”
[Original] The Wall Street Journal reports that today could be a make-or-break day for the investigations into the Bridgegate scandal in New Jersey. Kevin O’Dowd, chief of staff to Gov. Chris Christie, has been subpoenaed to testify. His words may well decide where or how the investigations proceed from here.
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“Gov. Chris Christie’s chief of staff has been ordered to appear before a legislative panel investigating lane closures at the George Washington Bridge,” AP reports. Kevin O’Dowd is expected to appear Monday, where he’ll be asked whether he and Christie spoke about the scandal last December.
“Private lawyers hired by Gov. Chris Christie’s office after the George Washington Bridge scandal erupted are on pace to bill taxpayers roughly $3 million for their work, and it appears well over half that tab is being incurred for events unrelated to whatever led to the lane closures in Fort Lee,” the Daily Record repoorts.
“Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher was originally hired for an internal investigation of the bridge incident and cooperation with the U.S. Attorney’s Office inquiry. But its work rapidly expanded to include a review of the allegations leveled by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that federal Sandy aid was withheld by the state because of the city’s unwillingness to approve an unrelated development project.”
Gosh. Think how pricey this would be if Christie hadn’t been exonerated by his legal team?
Newsday reports: “A last-minute change avoided what could have been an uncomfortable moment in the Sept. 11 museum dedication ceremony: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie followed by ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’ The original program for the ceremony had Christie’s remarks followed by Idina Menzel‘s performance of the song. That sent social media aflutter with speculation that the scheduling was a jab at the governor over accusations that his staff intentionally clogged traffic near the George Washington Bridge to punish a political adversary.”
Menzel, however, called in sick — there was no performance, saving the governor an embarrassing juxtaposition.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie held a “town hall”-style meeting on Thursday in Brick, Ocean County, and got the usual questions about Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts. But then he got a question about Bridgegate! If you can believe it, the question was more of a statement about how innocent the governor is.
The Asbury Park Press’s Erik Larsen writes 71-year-old Leonard A. Ludovico described the situation as a “witch hunt” and told Christie he knew that “you would not risk your political career and your integrity on something as lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.”
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Earlier this month, a report into the Bridgegate scandal cleared Chris Christie of all wrongdoing.
The Star-Ledger reports that, just two weeks before it released the report, the firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher — which Christie hired for the review — donated $10,000 to the Republican Governors Association. Christie chairs the RGA.
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You’ve already heard about the Joy Behar incident. There are a lot more golden tidbits in this week’s New Yorker profile of Chris Christie. Here are five of our favorite:
Christie owes some of his political success to New Jersey’s Democratic machine: That might sound odd, considering Christie’s a Republican. But the New Yorker article details how Christie’s relationship with two Democratic bosses — Joe DiVincenzo and some guy named George Norcross — has helped him to smooth sailing as governor. During Christie’s re-election campaign, in fact, “there seemed to be an informal non-compete agreement between (Norcross’s) organization and the Governor: Christie mostly stayed away from Norcross’s candidates, and Norcross mostly stayed out of the gubernatorial race.” DiVencenzo endorsed Christie outright. Christie’s ability to get along with Democrats — and thus appeal to centrists — was a rationale for his once-burgeoning presidential campaign. But as told here, the accommodations here seem less ideological, and more about power accommodating power.
Christie’s first political victory, election as a freeholder in the mid-1990s, was the result of a demonstrable lie:
This time, he was a reform candidate, promising to restore honest government, and he produced a TV ad charging that three of his opponents in the nine-person Republican primary were being “investigated by the Morris County prosecutor,” a serious accusation that happened to be false. Christie won the primary and then the general election, in part by assuring a more socially moderate electorate, “I am pro-choice.” But his victory was marred by the divisiveness of the campaign. The three victims of Christie’s false ad, including a freeholder named Cecilia Laureys, successfully sued him for defamation, and, after he lost an appeal, as part of the settlement he was forced to apologize to them in local newspapers.
Don’t Eff With Family, Part One: This has nothing to do with Christie, really, but is a great story about Norcross — and his mid-80s attempt to get State Sen. Lee Laskin to stop blocking the appointment of Norcross’s father to the New Jersey Racing Commission:
Norcross went to see him. “Senator, I come here as a son asking for a favor for his father,” Norcross said. “I don’t want my dad to know I ever came here to see you. This would mean the world to him. It would mean the world to me, and I would be forever indebted to you personally if you did this for my dad.”
Laskin leaned over his desk. “Fuck you and your father,” he said, according to Norcross. “All you corrupt Democrats.”
Norcross bided his time for six years — then took out a $430,000 personal loan to launch a blitz of negative ads againt Laskin’s re-election campaign. “We blew him away,” Norcross said. “It was the most exciting night I’ve ever had in politics in my life to this day.”
Don’t Eff With Family, Part Two: The New Yorker profile opens with former Gov. Thomas Kean, a mentor to Christie, seeming to withdraw his support. It’s not until the end we find out why — Christie was part of an attempted “coup” to remove Kean’s son, Thomas Jr., from his position as Senate Minority Leader.
On Wednesday, the night before the crucial vote to elect leaders for the new session, Christie’s chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd, who had been a prosecutor under Christie in the U.S. Attorney’s office, asked Kean, Jr., to come to the Governor’s office the following morning. There he told him that Christie wanted him to step aside. “I don’t think I’m willing to step aside,” Kean replied. O’Dowd disappeared to talk to Christie. When he returned, he told Kean that the Governor didn’t want to see him. Kean, Sr., didn’t expect his son to prevail. “I know how tough Chris is on people, and if you cross him he never forgets,” he said. “I didn’t think people were going to have the courage to take on the Governor after his reëlection.” Nevertheless, Kean retained his role as senate minority leader.
Tom Kean, Sr., felt betrayed by Christie’s move against his son. “I thought at some point the Governor would call me and say, ‘Hey, you gotta understand this, I had to do this for this reason or that reason.’ Whatever. But he never called me. The last time I talked to him was Election Night.”
The Watchdog Senator’s Investigative Background: Here’s how the Bridgegate scandal got started:
The bridge scandal might never have been revealed if not for the sleuthing of Loretta Weinberg, a seventy-nine-year-old self-described nosy Jewish grandmother who is also a Democratic state senator from Teaneck, New Jersey, just northwest of Fort Lee. “I bungled into the Port Authority issue, just out of my curiosity,” she told me.
In September, Weinberg read an item in the Bergen Record about the traffic jam. A commuter told the paper, “Other than after the 9/11 attacks, I’ve never seen such a fiasco of delays at the inbound, upper-level part of the bridge.” A senior official at the Port Authority promised Weinberg that he would “get to the bottom of it,” but when she didn’t hear back she became suspicious. “My training comes from having raised children through their adolescent years,” she told me. “ ‘What do you mean you didn’t have a party? You weren’t even smart enough to put the beer cans in someone else’s back yard.’ That’s my investigatory background.”
And yeah, that makes us kind of love Loretta Weinberg.
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