Political sabotage is one thing but high-level political operatives who strategise in ways that adversely affect the general population are engaged in political terrorism. Governor Chris Christie may be innocent of any real involvement in the nefarious actions of his staff and appointees but he is still accountable for the cultural climate of his office. In his ‘Lord of the Rings’ cast of characters we have:
Bridget Anne Kelly: deputy chief of staff.
Bill Baroni: deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
David Wildstein: Port Authority executive and high school classmate of Governor Christie.
Bill Stepien: prized strategist with the hide of a Texas steer.
The Gordian knot is still a bit tangled but what we already know is absolutely mind-boggling.
The Democratic mayor of Fort Lee declined to endorse Governor Christie for re-election. Mark Sokolich may be the mayor of Fort Lee but he also understands he is a US citizen. As citizens, we engage freedom of conscience in our voting choices. We are even allowed a ‘write in’ area for candidates. In other words, I can write the words ‘ham sandwich’ and cast a legal vote. The sandwich will not win, but my choice will be duly noted. Criminal collusion between Governor Christie’s staff and highly placed political appointees (Bill Baroni and David Wildstein) brought about the vindictive closing of two of the three lanes of traffic flowing onto the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee. This resulted in massive traffic jams, which made the daily commute into Manhattan a nightmare. This manmade disaster was initiated on September 9 and did not end until September 13, 2013.
Here is a troubling thought. Would it have continued along for several more days had it not been discovered and noted as a traffic closure that did not meet standard protocol and oversight? This was an act of political terrorism against the unsuspecting public but I also worry about real acts of terrorism, considering the lapse in chain of command oversight of a highly trafficked bridge.
The discernible trail of breadcrumbs for this bizarre tale begins on August 13, 2013. The governor’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, sent an e-mail to a Christie ally at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” David Wildstein replies, “Got it.” So it appears the plan had already been discussed. Three weeks passed and Mr Wildstein directed employees at the Port Authority to reduce (without proper warning) the number of access lanes on the bridge. He was obviously excited about his little act of terror. He actually showed up at the scene of the crime to make sure it progressed in an efficient manner. Too bad the police did not know to arrest him on the spot.
It will take several weeks for Governor Christie to dig his way out of this political maelstrom. The aforementioned is written with excessive exuberance. Crimes were concocted within the governor’s gate. What was cooked up was not in the category of a prank. Closing two lanes of traffic and snarling vehicles into a centipede’s crawl on one of the busiest water spans in the world was not the work of adolescents. It was the brainchild of college-educated adults. More than 100 million vehicles per year cross the George Washington Bridge. Four days is a long time to engage a political vendetta, which severely impacts US citizens and their need for corridors of access.
Response times for emergency vehicles lengthened extensively. Was there any loss of life or limb due to a delay in transfer from triage level care to a state-of-the-art medical facility? What about our school bus drivers? If they were stuck for hours with seats of small squirming children can we give them combat pay? Interruption of interstate commerce is a serious charge. Where is the nearest federal penitentiary? Cells await new guests. No chocolate mint on the pillow, please.
Governor Christie recognised a real hurricane when it hit his state. He seemed unaware of the disaster that was unfolding on George Washington Bridge, a transit lifeline for many citizens. More importantly, he seemed unaware that his closest advisors were predatory. This orchestrated disaster against motorists was triggered by a highly valued cadre of loyalists.
Governor Christie has taken immediate responsibility for what happened in September of 2013 but it remains to be seen how his ultimate responsibility for this situation is weighed by the public. We know his public image. It is undoubtedly carefully crafted but what about his private image? Did he foster a staff culture that was one of win at all costs? Was he predatory along the back channels of politics whilst presenting a benign and personable front? Trusting political strategists running along the track toward the White House still requires Governor Christie’s hands on the reins. It appears his hands were slack. He did not know about his runaway steeds. He bears ultimate responsibility. It happened on his watch. Firing his staff is a first good move on his part.
The story of power and promise within the governor’s office reminds me of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mayor Mark Sokolich presented as a threat against the ownership of a future White House ring. Governor Chris Christie had political strategists with the personality of Gollum. There are politicians who have a natural life cycle of service to the nation. Governor Christie is such a man but, today, political strategists can turn into Gollum, seeking a magical ring as a means of extending the life cycle of their political boss. Their own fortunes are closely knit to the rise of the political star of their construction and imagination. Was lust for power and a desire to make it all the way to the White House in play? Was Gollum’s ring being tossed about between the hands of Governor Christie’s staffers and political appointees? I think so. Seduction and desire create a poisonous elixir.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at email@example.com