New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may have held a two-hour long presser last week to try to get in front of a growing controversy surrounding some of his staffers’ plan to cause a traffic jam on the country’s busiest bridge. But despite Christie’s profuse apology, the firing of a top aide, and declarations that he knew nothing about the scheme, many questions still remain.
How much did Christie know about the plan to shut down part of the George Washington Bridge? Was anyone else on his team involved? Has Christie used his power for political revenge in the past? Who ordered the lane closures? What will Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff–whom Christie blamed–say if she is called to testify?
One of the biggest looming questions: who exactly was the target of the chaotic lane closures in the first place? All we really know is that thousands of people were affected by the unannounced closures, which paralyzed much of Fort Lee and the surrounding communities the week of Sept. 9. The travelers themselves weren’t the target. So who was?
More information is likely to be disclosed in the coming weeks, especially if Christie’s aides are served with subpoenas, a move that’s likely to happen in the next few days. In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the prevailing theories:
1. It was to punish a local Democratic mayor.
The theory that Christie’s aides were seeking political retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie in his gubernatorial election has been the most cited theory by far. In a letter sent on day four of the closings from the mayor to Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority Bill Baroni, Sokolich says as much.
Subpoenaed emails and texts raised suspicions even more. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” wrote Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, who has since been fired. David Wildstein, a Christie-appointed executive at the Port Authority, who has since resigned, said in apparent reference to Sokolich: “It will be a tough November for this little Serbian.” (Sokolich is actually Croatian.)
Christie, during the press conference, said he could not pick Sokolich “out of a lineup.”
2. It was part of a fight over state Supreme Court nominees
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow floated another theory, suggesting the lane closures were the result of an ongoing feud between the governor and Democrats over state Supreme Court nominees. After all, it’s not as though Sokolich was the only Democratic mayor not to endorse Christie.
The feud started in 2010 when Christie, in an unprecedented move, refused to reappoint a New Jersey Supreme Court justice for another term, a move that enraged Democrats. The Dems, in turn, shot down all the nominees Christie put forth. When a GOP member of the court came up for reappointment last year, the Democrats promised to fight it. Eventually, Christie decided to stop the reappointment, criticizing the “animals” in the Senate.
Maddow pointed out that the “time for some traffic problems” email was sent shortly after Christie skewered Democrats during a particularly angry press conference over the renomination battle. The Democratic woman spearheading the effort to stop that renomination was New Jersey State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg – who just happens to be from Fort Lee.
2. It was over a development project
MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki suggests Christie’s team may have been attempting to derail negotiations over the development of an important piece of real estate at the edge of New Jersey in Fort Lee. The 16-acre plot of land is slated to be turned into residential and commercial property and parking lots. Part of the appeal of the billion-dollar plan is its proximity to New York City. Kornacki called the project Sokolich spearheaded a big part of his “mayoral legacy.”
But if there are infuriating traffic jams, the project isn’t as valuable as it once was, and may have trouble being financed. Sokolich expressed concern in an email to Bill Baroni, one of Christie’s appointees to the Port Authority, who has since resigned. “What do I do when our billion dollar redevelopment is put on line at the next of next year?” asked Sokolich.
Christie and Baroni have both questioned the fairness of allowing Fort Lee to have so many direct lanes to the bridge.
“And that September closure, we can now say, didn’t simply complicate the everyday lives of Fort Lee residents. It potentially jeopardized the value and the future of a $1 billion redevelopment plan that has been the centerpiece of Sokolich’s mayoral agenda for years,” said Kornacki.”