New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was re-elected in 2013 by a large margin, garnering 60.3% of the total vote. Gov. Christie’s overwhelming victory against his democratic opponent was in large part due to his ability to portray himself as a strong executive in times of crisis, most prominently during Hurricane Sandy. The Christie’s popularity was cut short 3 years ago after the administration became embroiled in political scandal. High ranking officials David Wildstein, Bridget Ann Kelly, and William Baroni were implicated in the toll lane closings on the George Washington Bridge in 2013. The lane closures caused traffic to grind to a screeching halt. All vehicles entering and exiting the adjacent town of Fort Lee experienced hour long delays, including an ambulance with a heart attack victim and the police search for a 4 year old boy.
The official reason given for the lane closure by the Port Authority was to conduct a traffic study. As emails and texts between officials in the Christie administration became available to the public through a New Jersey legislator investigation, a completely different and more nefarious story was painted. In a text to David Wildstein, Bridget Kelly uses the phrase “time for some traffic trouble in Fort Lee” to which Wildstein replies “Got it.”. The timing of the exchange seems quite suspicious as well. The text was sent one month before the lane closing incident,during the middle of the New Jersey Governor’s re-election campaign. While the governor was busy gathering up endorsement after endorsement, one notable political figure was absent from the list: the mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich. Mayor Sokolich refused to endorse the Christie for governor, leading to the accusation of the misuse of power at the Port Authority for political retribution.
The entire bridge debacle, more colloquially known as “Bridgegate”, has been the cause of much headache for Gov. Christie. His favorability rating has dropped significantly, dropping almost 30 percent since his all time high according to the Rutger-Eaglton poll. Chris Christies trouble are not yet over though. The administration must still worry about the trial of the officials implicated in the scandal. The three government officials have been charged with multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy. Bridget Ann Kelly and William Baroni have entered not guilty pleas. David Wildstein has pleaded guilty to all charges and will testify for the prosecution. The trial began in mid-September and is ongoing. Kelly and Baroni will also be taking the stand in their own defense. Their defense attorney has cast doubt on the prosecution’s witness, calling Wildstein a “con artist”. The prosecution has cast the two defendants as willing accomplices to Wildstein.
While the trial is set to continue for several more weeks, the further political ramifications remain unclear. Chris Christie has denied any knowledge of the lane closures before the public, but court filings have revealed emails from the Port Authority accusing the Governor of knowing at the time of incident. Chris Christie has been called to testify in the trial of the two officials. Any new information that is revealed in the trial will further fuel calls for impeachment. Whatever the result is, the public will have answers to who is responsible for the “Bridgegate” scandal.