Wednesday 18 October 2017

Christie's traffic jam revenge on rival puts future in doubt

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Jon Swaine New York

CHRIS CHRISTIE, the early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, is facing a crisis after emails appeared to show that senior aides conspired to inflict an extraordinary act of revenge against the town of a local mayor who was a political foe.

The private emails detailed how advisers to the New Jersey governor brought traffic gridlock to the town of Fort Lee after its mayor had refused to endorse his re-election campaign last year.

The revelations left Mr Christie, a rising Republican star who claims a rare ability to forge bipartisan co-operation, open to charges of political bullying in his leadership of the "Soprano state".

Mr Christie (51) previously denied that his staff were behind the mysterious closure of access roads to the George Washington bridge, which connects New Jersey with New York, last September.

The throttling of traffic to the bridge, which is the busiest in the world, caused four days of gridlock in Fort Lee, whose mayor, Mark Sokolich, refused to support Mr Christie's re-election. Police complained that the traffic jams caused by the lane closures restricted access for ambulances and even hindered the search for a missing four-year-old child, who was eventually found.

Yet the emails, which were subpoenaed by an inquiry, showed the governor's senior aides directly ordering the lane closures -- and even celebrating the resulting jams.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Bridget Anne Kelly, Mr Christie's deputy chief of staff, wrote to David Wildstein, a senior Christie appointee at the port authority. "Got it," he said.

The disclosure threatens to tarnish the image of the governor, who launched his career as the state's corruption-busting US attorney by prosecuting numerous politicians, and styles himself as a no-nonsense everyman untouched by the grubby deals of Washington.

RESIGNED

Mr Sokolich had said in a complaint to the port authority at the height of the gridlock that the closures, which were eventually explained as a "traffic safety study", had "punitive overtones".

Mr Christie was at the time cruising comfortably to re-election against Barbara Buono, a Democrat, and did not need the endorsement of Mr Sokolich.

After the lanes were closed on September 9, Ms Kelly asked in an email if Mr Sokolich's calls to the port authority were being returned. "Radio silence," said Mr Wildstein. "His name comes right after Mayor Fulop", referring another local leader who refused to endorse Mr Christie.

The lanes eventually reopened when the most senior New York official at the port authority, which is run jointly by the two states, found out about them from a journalist. Mr Wildstein and another New Jersey official resigned over the affair late last year.

Bob Ingle, Mr Christie's authorised biographer, said: "I can't believe that anyone could be so stupid. He didn't even have a serious challenge. The fallout is going to be tremendous." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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