New Jersey’s endorsement game

The George Washington Bridge viewed from the air, December 1, 2013.
The George Washington Bridge viewed from the air, December 1, 2013.
Photo by Mark Lennihan/AP Photo
One of the central questions in Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) bridge scandal is simple: why in the world did the Christie administration decide it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”? What did Fort Lee do, exactly, to earn retribution on this scale?
 
When the controversy began to unfold in earnest several weeks ago, the working assumption was that Team Christie administration decided to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich (D) for failing to endorse him. When the mayor said last week he wasn’t entirely sure he was even asked for an endorsement, competing theories came to light. Rachel, of course, posited an alternative explanation last week, and Steve Kornacki presented one of his own over the weekend, making the case that the lane-closures have been related to a billion-dollar development project.
 
But before we move past the endorsement explanation altogether, it appears Sokolich’s memory is coming into sharper focus.
One day last spring … a member of Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election campaign staff came calling to see if Mr. Sokolich, a Democrat, would endorse the governor, a Republican. There was scant doubt that Mr. Christie would win. But his ambition was to win big…. Mr. Sokolich, however, was noncommittal. “I said, ‘Yes, I’ll consider it, because I’ll consider anything,’ ” he recalled.
 
He chewed it over with local council members and two objections arose: It would be rude to State Senator Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate for governor, and they were miffed at Mr. Christie for his decision to spend millions of dollars to hold a special election to fill New Jersey’s vacant United States Senate seat three weeks before Election Day.
 
And so the mayor let the request go. “I never called and said no, I never called and said yes,” said Mr. Sokolich, who would not name the official who had reached out to him. “I think they interpreted my response to that conversation to be a no.”
The timing is a little fuzzy, but the New York Times reports that it was “not long afterward” that Christie administration officials imposed paralyzing traffic that crippled Fort Lee deliberately.
 
But since plenty of other Democratic mayors also balked at endorsing the governor’s re-election campaign, shouldn’t there be other victims? The Star-Ledger reported over the weekend that there may have been – Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s (D) grant application was rejected after she failed to endorse Christie and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop (D) found several meetings with administration officials were canceled after he chose not to endorse the governor.
 
I’m still skeptical of the endorsement explanation – canceled meetings aren’t exactly the equivalent of four days of dangerous traffic – but there have been several reports in recent days that suggest Team Christie did take endorsements very seriously.
 
Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reports today, “Interviews with mayors and other New Jersey Democratic officials show that Mr. Christie’s allies in conversations that swung from friendly to persistent fostered a perception of better access to the governor’s office and state commissions for those who cooperated [with the re-election bid], while a few who stayed neutral or endorsed Mr. Christie’s opponent said they felt locked out.”
 
It’s unsatisfying, but at this point, all we have are competing theories. It’s a reminder that in many respects, this scandal is just getting started.
 

Chris Christie and New Jersey

New Jersey's endorsement game