Wednesday 20 September 2017

Bridging the gap between truth and fiction

Not only are Republican favourite Chris Christie's presidential hopes in tatters over Bridgegate, but now the New Jersey Irish are after him too. Niall O'Dowd reports

Scandal: New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the GW Bridge and, inset, Christie with his then deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly. GETTY IMAGES; REUTERS
Scandal: New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the GW Bridge and, inset, Christie with his then deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly. GETTY IMAGES; REUTERS
Scandal: New Jersey governor Chris Christie
Christie with then chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly. Photo: Reuters

Niall O'Dowd

Bridget Anne Kelly counted her powerful boss, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, as a mentor and a friend. He, in turn, thought nothing of calling her "stupid" during a rambling press conference last week, and sacking the 41-year-old divorced mother of four without hearing her side of the story on the 'Bridgegate' scandal that is casting a huge shadow over Christie's political future, including a potential White House run in 2016.

You know the saying, with friends like these . . .

The man widely considered the front runner to secure the Republican Party nomination in 2016 wants America to believe that he had no hand or part in the hugely disruptive closure of three entrance lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September that resulted in the mother of all traffic jams. The blockage also delayed critical emergency medical services and school buses stuck with anxious kids.

Christie swears Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's loyal deputy chief of staff, cooked up the political payback plot with a few other devious staffers.

The Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, where the entrance lanes were located, didn't endorse Christie for re-election last November, and Bridget Anne, the governor's deputy since 2010, took it upon herself to exact revenge in an email with these words: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

That is what Christie wants us all to believe and that he, a notorious hands-on governor, knew nothing about it.

With a new four-year term in New Jersey and dreams of being the next occupant of the White House, Christie had to blame someone for the stunningly petty yet seriously damaging partial blockage to the country's busiest bridge.

Enter Bridget Anne Kelly, daughter of a staunchly Irish Catholic Jersey family. She's a single mum who sends her kids to the same Catholic school she attended; her brother Eamon is an emergency services technician, and another sibling, Liam, works in Jersey state government.

Kelly has worked in politics since graduating from college, and signed up as a Christie volunteer for his first run for governor in 2009. He won, she nabbed a job in his new administration, and was eventually promoted to be one of Christie's deputy chiefs of staff.

Her marriage crumbled in the process, though, and she divorced her golf pro husband two years ago. They share custody of their kids, aged from 17 to seven.

Kelly is by all accounts in a state of shock over the turn of events since her infamous bridge email to a fellow official entered the public domain last week. She's fled her home and likely won't be heard from until she's called to testify at the hearings into the scandal.

Her allies have made it very clear in interviews that they're certain Kelly did not act alone, and that she was carrying out orders from a higher power.

"She follows the chain of command," one associate told The New York Times. "She's not a cowboy."

Of course she's not.

Christie should be afraid of what those hearings uncover. It's true that to date there's been no definitive evidence linking the governor to the bridge bungle, but it's stretching the bounds of reason even wider than his waistline to think his closest aides hatched the plan without their boss's seal of approval.

And when two of the few people still defending your honour are Snooki and JWoww . . . well, you've definitely got problems.

A chastened Christie spoke for nearly two hours at his press conference a day after the scandal broke, saying he accepted responsibility but refusing to take real blame. And he swore blind that his "deceitful" and "callous" underlings operated behind his back, forcing him to come forward to clean up the mess.

Interestingly, it was another Irish American official who smelled a political rat when the lanes were first closed.

Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority, which controls the GW Bridge, is the son of Irish immigrants. He expressed immediate outrage over the lane closures and ordered the four-day mess to come to an end. Who knows how long the Christie minions would have carried on the traffic snarl?

"I am appalled by the lack of process, failure to inform our customers and Fort Lee and most of all by the dangers created to the public interest," Foye wrote when lifting the closures.

How come Christie, the state's top elected official, didn't see the same problems?

Not only that, when the media started asking questions a few weeks back he actually joked about the traffic knot, saying he was the guy who was "moving the cones around" on the bridge.

But it doesn't appear that Christie will get the last laugh. Other stories are emerging that further illustrate his vindictive side -- cancelling important meetings with state officials who didn't endorse his re-election, pulling funding for research projects for those who aren't on Team Christie, etc, etc.

Christie is either asleep at the wheel with a staff of rogues steering the ship, or else he's an operator right up there with all the other political partisans that have sprung from Jersey. That list is a mile long.

Either way, he's deservedly tumbled from the top of the Republican presidential heap right down to the bottom. And Hillary Clinton has come a step closer to measuring for new White House drapes.

Irish Independent

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