Late Monday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) top two appointees to the Port Authority, both of whom have since resigned, complied with subpoenas related to the ongoing bridge scandal. Soon after, state Assemblyman John Wisnieswki (D), chairman of the committee investigating the incident, acknowledged soon after that the probe will continue into 2014.
But while we wait for the process to continue and for the new materials to be scrutinized, one of the overarching questions is whether Christie could possibly be so petty as to cripple a community with paralyzing traffic, just to punish the local mayor for having refused to endorse him.
The evidence on the bridge controversy is still coming together, but Kate Zernike reported yesterday that Christie’s track record of bullying New Jersey officials for even minor slights is extraordinary.
In 2010, John F. McKeon, a New Jersey assemblyman, made what he thought was a mild comment on a radio program: Some of the public employees that Gov. Chris Christie was then vilifying had been some of the governor’s biggest supporters.
He was surprised to receive a handwritten note from Mr. Christie, telling him that he had heard the comments, and that he didn’t like them.
“I thought it was a joke,” Mr. McKeon recalled. “What governor would take the time to write a personal note over a relatively innocuous comment?”
But the gesture would come to seem genteel compared with the fate suffered by others in disagreements with Mr. Christie: a former governor who was stripped of police security at public events; a Rutgers professor who lost state financing for cherished programs; a state senator whose candidate for a judgeship suddenly stalled; another senator who was disinvited from an event with the governor in his own district.
The whole article is worth reading to appreciate just how thin-skinned the governor really is. The piece points to example after example of Christie using the power of his office to punish rivals – even other Republicans – who’ve offended him in minor and inconsequential ways.
To be sure, this is not proof that the governor ordered the lane closures that crippled Fort Lee in September. But if there are underlying doubts about what Christie is capable of when it comes to petty retribution, the available evidence paints a deeply unflattering portrait of an intemperate bully, willing to use the power of his administration to intimidate, punish, and harass.
In 2011, Mr. Christie held a news conference where he accused State Senator Richard J. Codey of being “combative and difficult” in blocking two nominees. Mr. Codey, a Democrat who had served as governor following the resignation of James E. McGreevey, responded that he had not only signed off on the nominations, but had held a meeting to try to hurry them along.
Three days later, Mr. Codey was walking out of an event in Newark when he got a call from the state police superintendent informing him that he would no longer be afforded the trooper who accompanied him to occasional public events – a courtesy granted all former governors. That same day, his cousin, who had been appointed by Mr. McGreevey to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was fired, as was a close friend and former deputy chief of staff who was then working in the state Office of Consumer Affairs. […]
Later that year, the governor was pressing hard on Alan Rosenthal, the Rutgers political scientist whom Republicans and Democrats had chosen as the tiebreaking member of the commission that was redistricting the state’s legislative districts. Mr. Christie wanted Mr. Rosenthal to vote for the map put forward by the Republicans on the commission, but instead he chose the Democrats’ plan, saying it offered more stability. Soon after, Mr. Christie used his line-item veto to cut $169,000 for two programs at Mr. Rosenthal’s institute at Rutgers.
In one of the more salient examples, Zernike pointed to an incident between the governor’s office and the state firefighters’ union. Bill Lavin, representing the union, appeared on a radio show and thought he’d extend an olive branch, calling for new direct talks between the two sides. Bill Baroni, one of the Christie aides who recently resigned from the Port Authority, was then a Christie ally in the state Senate, and called Levin to deliver an obscene message from the governor in response.
“What he said a couple of times,” Lavin recalled, “was: ‘The governor told me to make sure you don’t get this message mixed up; say these exact words.’”
In other words, Christie wanted to push back against a perceived foe, so he called Bill Baroni to relay a specific, pointed response.
It’s a detail to keep in mind as the scandal continues to unfold.