'Mr. Christie has gone too far this time'

Vehicles slow for tolls before crossing the George Washington Bridge on December 17, 2013 in Ft. Lee, New Jersey.
Vehicles slow for tolls before crossing the George Washington Bridge on December 17, 2013 in Ft. Lee, New Jersey.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie isn't the only person to be inconvenienced by the New Jersey "Bridgegate" scandal. September's George Washington Bridge lane closures, which members of Christie's administration allegedly planned as an act of political retaliation, partially incapacitated a major highway between Manhattan and New Jersey, disrupting a number of communities in the area surrounding the bridge.

"Mr. Christie has gone too far this time," said Marcia Wilson, a long-time resident of Leonia, New Jersey. Wilson, who accused Christie of instigating the lane closures, said the resulting traffic build-up created a public safety hazard for children trying to reach the local elementary school.

"It's very dangerous crossing to Fort Lee Road from Broad Avenue. It's probably worse from Grand Avenue, and when traffic is backed up, there's fumes for the kids and it's dangerous," said Wilson, who first moved to Leonia in 1939 when she was two years old. She said she has four grandchildren, including one in first grade and another in kindergarten.

Life-long Leonia resident Maureen Havlusch, who teaches high school in nearby Hoboken, said she wasn't so sure Christie was to blame for the lane closures.

"I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt until we learn whether he did anything about it," she said. But in an email to a local listserv (quoted by msnbc with Havlusch's permission), she expressed dismay at the problems it had caused for her town and the surrounding area.

"The traffic problems that this bridge creates through no intentional fault of anyone can seriously, and at times even tragically, impact the lives of those who can't get emergency services quick enough because of the traffic, or are injured by the angry motorists tearing through our backstreets in their frustration," she wrote. "But to learn it was intentional through these emails, is just not acceptable from a politician. It is a complete contradiction of the message we were given during Hurricane Sandy when the Governor's administration gave the impression he was here to help all NJ residents, not just Republicans."

Leonia and its population of barely 9,000 people were not the targets of the lane closure. Instead, Christie aides were allegedly taking revenge on Mark Sokolich, the mayor of neighboring town Fort Lee, after he refused to endorse Christie's reelection bid. During a late September press conference, Fort Lee Police Chief Keith Bendul suggested that the lane closures could have caused serious damage to public safety in the town.

"On Monday, while all this was going on, we had to contend with a missing four-year-old, a cardiac arrest requiring an ambulance, and a car running up against a building," he said. "What would happen if there was a very serious accident?"

Speaking to the local press on Wednesday, Mayor Sokolich attacked the Christie administration as the cause of the closures.

“How dare you schedule a man-made traffic disaster in my community?” he said. “It’s the example of the pettiest and most venomous side of politics.”

State Senator Barbara Buono, Christie's Democratic challenger during his reelection campaign, told Salon that the bridge closures were an attempt at "thwarting democracy."

"It clearly reveals something which I talked about during the election and so on last year, which is in this administration, there is a culture of arrogance," she said. "It reveals an abuse of authority, and you know, political retribution—and leading straight to Chris Christie."

Christie has repeatedly denied that he had sought to take revenge on Mayor Sokolich. In a Tuesday statement, he blamed the lane closures on one of his aides.

"What I've seen today for the first time is unacceptable. I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge," he said. "One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.