Last September, traffic into New York on the George Washington Bridge got jacked up when a Chris Christie appointee ordered a shutdown of toll lanes. His office said it was for a traffic study. But it may actually have been to score some getback with a local mayor who angered New Jersey's cantankerous governor.
The Port Authority, which oversees the bridge, originally said the human-caused traffic jam was a planned "lane closure to allow for a study of traffic patterns." But for the past month, anonymous workers had grumbled to journalists that there was no traffic study at all, and traffic to New York from Fort Lee was brought to a standstill for no apparent reason.
Well, there was one possible reason: To send a message to Mark Sokolich, the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, whose city residents and motorists were hit hardest by the closures. According to the New York Times:
Last summer, [Sokolich] of Fort Lee, N.J., was expected to follow a lot of other mayors in the state by endorsing Republican Gov. Chris Christie in his easy run for re-election. Mr. Sokolich, a Democrat, refused.
Three weeks later, the traffic stopped in Fort Lee: "Short trips — it was the first day of school — took as long as four hours. The town of Fort Lee was a parking lot." Sokolich wrote an angry letter to another Christie appointee in the Port Authority, calling the closure "punitive" and asking for it to be lifted—which it was, five days later, after Port Authority Director Patrick Foye found out about the closure.
Foye went to the New Jersey statehouse and told legislators Monday that he knew of no traffic study. He only knew who had ordered the closure: another senior official at the agency named David Wildstein.
A loyal Republican politico, Wildstein attended high school with Chris Christie, and his 2010 appointment by Christie to a newly created Port Authority post—"director of interstate capital projects"—rankled agency vets who thought Wildstein had "more experience with campaigns" than "transportation issues."
"He became the watcher of the entire agency," one person told local reporters. "What he was watching for was strict adherence to the Christie agenda."
Could the Christie agenda have included a byzantine retribution campaign against the mayor of a 35,000-resident North Jersey borough? The governor called that that notion "crazy" last week—while adding that maybe little Fort Lee had too many bridge lanes dedicated to it in the first place.
Indeed, it would be crazy for the governor of a state of nearly 9 million people to send oblique political messages with a few lanes of traffic—crazier still for a politician with national stature and a possible interest in running for the American presidency.
It's a bizarre story, one that raises more questions than it answers. Democratic legislators in New Jersey, sensing a chance to pounce on the popular governor, are vowing more hearings, more findings of fact. One person that could probably help them is the Port Authority's Wildstein. But it won't be easy catching up to him: He announced his resignation last Friday.
[Photo credit: AP]