Many of the key details surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) bridge scandal came into sharper focus on Friday. As part of a plea agreement, David Wildstein, a former member of Christie’s team, explained that he and two other top aides to the governor conspired to deliberately cripple a New Jersey for several days as part of a retribution scheme – the local mayor didn’t endorse Christie’s re-election, so the governor’s aides punished the community.
The top members of the governor’s administration picked the time to inflict the most severe damage – the first day of school – then coordinated a cover-up of their alleged crimes. Two prominent former members of Christie’s team are now facing a nine-count criminal indictment, with an apparent trial on the way.
But the Jersey Journal flagged an interesting detail that was also revealed, though largely overlooked, on Friday
Buried in the 30-page federal indictment of two key figures in the Bridgegate scandal is additional confirmation that Gov. Christie Christie’s office had it in for Mayor Steve Fulop.There was a “coordinated and deliberate refusal by the conspirators to communicate with, meet or respond” to Fulop after he became mayor in July 2013, according to the nine-count indictment of Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s ex-chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, formerly Christie’s top appointee at the Port Authority.
I can appreciate the fact that it’s tough to keep track of all of the various scandals surrounding the Republican governor’s office, but these new details about the governor’s office punishing the mayor of Jersey City reinforce an alarming pattern of abuse from Team Christie.
Let’s back up to refresh some memories about the nature of the Jersey City controversy.
As we discussed early last year, Christie’s office arranged a series of meetings for Mayor Steven Fulop in 2013 in order to discuss his city’s needs. The scheduled meetings were expected to be a very big deal – Jersey City was struggling with the effects of Superstorm Sandy, and the governor’s aides intended to send state commissioner of transportation, the state treasurer, the head of economic development authority, and others to sit down directly with the community’s mayor.
Things changed quickly, however, when the Democratic mayor said he wouldn’t endorse Christie’s re-election campaign. Within an hour, agency heads canceled their meetings with Fulop without explanation. Within a few days, literally all of the meetings between Jersey City’s mayor and the state officials – discussions that had been months in the making, dealing with departments in state government that had nothing to do with the campaign – were off.
Fulop suspected it was petty, partisan payback – Jersey City was being punished by Team Christie because the mayor wouldn’t endorse the governor’s campaign. When Fulop raised his concerns publicly, Christie’s office said the mayor’s concerns shouldn’t be taken seriously – the mayor, the governor’s aides insisted, was just a “partisan.”
We now know better. Fulop’s concerns weren’t “partisan”; they were true.
Unlike “Bridgegate,” the Jersey City controversy probably won’t become a federal case, but the fact that we now have two mayors facing political retribution – all because they didn’t endorse an incumbent who was going to win anyway – tells us something important.
After Christie admitted that the bridge scandal was legit, he said the misconduct was a rare lapse, completely at odds with the above-board way in which the governor’s team generally operates. And yet, now we have two communities that faced partisan reprisals for failing to play political ball with Team Christie.
As eager as the governor is to distance himself from his administration’s scandals, the emerging picture is one of a rotten political operation, engaged in brazen corruption and abuses of power, acting in Chris Christie’s name.
The governor wants the public to believe he bears no responsibility whatsoever for what his top aides did to punish his constituents. To put it mildly, it’s a curious brand of leadership.