A Guide to Chris Christie's Fun Traffic Jam Scandal [UPDATED]
How long did it take the mayor of Fort Lee to start freaking out?
Not long. The traffic became snarled before 7 a.m. on September 9. That day, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich called the office of Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director of the Port Authority who was appointed by Christie. Apparently he told a Barroni aide there was an "urgent public safety matter" in Fort Lee and asked where he could reach the man.
Baroni forwarded the message to Wildstein, who forwarded it to Kelly. Kelly asked if Baroni had called the mayor back.
"Radio silence," Wildstein replied, "His name comes right after Mayor Fulop." Kelly responded "Ty," an abbreviation for thank you.
According to The Record, Wildstein is referring to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. Fulop told the paper this week that Christie's political team " approached him about endorsing the governor." After he said no, "meetings he had scheduled with 10 state officials were abruptly cancelled."
By September 10, Sokolich was sending frantic text messages to Barroni.
"Presently we have four very busy traffic lanes merging into only one toll booth...." he texted Barroni. "The bigger problem is getting kids to school. Help please it's maddening."
We have the exact text of that message, because Wildstein gleefully texted it to someone, whose name has been redacted in the documents the Record got.
"Is it wrong that I'm smiling" the person wrote back.
"No," Wildstein responded.
"I feel badly about the kids, I guess," the person responded.
"They are the children of Buono voters," Wildstein replied. That's a reference to Barbara Buono, Christie's Democratic opponent this time around, who lost to Christie back in November.
Wow, this Wildstein guy sounds like kind of a dick.
Is that a question or a statement? Either way, yeah. He was mayor of Livingston, New Jersey in the late 1980s. But he became better known over next decade under his nom-de-blog Wally Edge, delivering cutting edge Jersey politics scoops. He was unmasked in June 2010, not long after he took the Port Authority job, which pays $215,000.
Once he was installed at the Port Authority, according to a 2012 Record article, he quickly became known as a Christie guy (a stooge, if we're being less nice):
Longtime employees, however, privately describe a man intent on carrying out a political agenda rather than one built on reform or improving the region's transportation system. They believe the appointment of Wildstein and dozens of others recommended by the governor -- for jobs ranging from toll collector to deputy executive director -- are evidence that political loyalty trumps merit.
In December, as the heat around the Fort Lee mess started to build, Wildstein announced he would resign from the Port Authority.
But he's not out of the woods yet; he's been subpoenaed to appear tomorrow before a New Jersey House legislative committee in charge of transportation and public works. There, he'll have to answer questions "concerning the decision by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to reduce, without prior public notice, the number of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey from September 9, 2013 through September 13, 2013." That's according to the announcement of the hearing posted on the New Jersey's legislature's website.
The hearing is set for noon. Should be fun.
So how does all of this affect Chris Christie?
That's the biggest question, and you're very astute for asking it, invisible reader.
Christie denied knowing anything whatsoever about the Fort Lee mess for weeks. He joked about it in a press conference, in fact, telling reporters, "I moved the cones actually unbeknownst to everybody."
The Democratic National Committee made that joke into a centerpiece of a new video about what they've dubbed "Bridgegate." Democrats are clearly hoping the debacle will make Christie look like a petty jerk, taking a little momentum away from his possible presidential run.
Good god, what a mess. What can we learn from this?
The main takeaway is this: if you're planning to do something jerky and illegal to get back at your political foes, maybe don't write it all down. Pick up the phone. Pay a visit. Send a carrier pigeon. Or don't cover your tracks at all, because as we can see here, it makes for some delightful reading.
Update, 4:35 p.m.: Christie's full statement is on the following page: