Politics, patronage, and the Port Authority

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) speaks at the CPAC Conference, on March 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.
Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) speaks at the CPAC Conference, on March 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.
We've known for a while that New Jersey's Port Authority has been a problematic agency, used in unfortunate ways by, among others, Gov. Chris Christie's (R) administration. But as the governor's scandals continue to unfold, the public learns new details that cast the agency -- and the misuse of that agency -- in an even more unflattering light.
Kate Zernike and Matt Flegenheimer report today, for example, on the extent to which the Port Authority had "already been turned into a de facto political operation for Governor Christie," even before the governor's team decided it was time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.

For a state that lost hundreds of lives on Sept. 11, the gifts were emotionally resonant: pieces of steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center. They were presented by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to 20 carefully chosen New Jersey mayors who sat atop a list of 100 whose endorsements Gov. Chris Christie hoped to win. At photo opportunities around the mangled pieces of steel, Bill Baroni, Mr. Christie's top staff appointee at the Port Authority, told audiences how many people wanted a similar remnant of the destroyed buildings, and how special these mayors were.

Now, whether or not something is in good taste is, practically by definition, a subjective question. People will often disagree on what is or isn't offensive.
But this report suggests Team Christie not only kept pieces of steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center, but then distributed them as campaign goodies, hoping to entice mayors into endorsing the governor's re-election campaign.
I can appreciate that heavy-handed appeals during campaigns are common, but 9/11 wreckage from the Twin Towers? As some kind of tchotchke to reward would-be endorsers?
This was one of the more over-the-top revelations, but it wasn't the only eyebrow-raising anecdote.

The Port Authority had long been accused of patronage, something longtime agency employees said that the Christie administration had continued. The administration recommended dozens of people with close ties to the governor or his inner circle -- often without relevant experience -- for jobs at the agency. These hires included a gourmet food broker and longtime Republican donor, who was given a job as a financial analyst, and the co-author of Mr. Baroni's self-help book, ''Fat Kid Got Fit: And So Can You!'' -- who received a part-time job as publications editor that paid more than $50,000 per year.

Oh my.
Of course, all of this offers amazing background for ongoing developments, including some that are unfolding in a New Jersey courtroom today.

Lawyers for a legislative committee and two former advisers to Gov. Chris Christie implicated in the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge tangled today over whether the pair had to turn over records subpoenaed by the panel. "This is not, has not been, and the subpoenas are not fishing expeditions of any sort," Reid Schar, a lawyer for the legislative committee, told Judge Mary Jacobson. But a lawyer for one of the former advisers argued that the committee's assertion that its subpoena was specific enough to identify documents it knew existed was "astonishing."

The outcome, as Rachel explained on the show last night, matters a great deal: without the subpoenas and the cooperation of witnesses, the investigation will be severely hampered.
As for the politics, Christie continues to insist that the public doesn't really care much about his scandals, but there's ample polling evidence to suggest the governor is completely wrong. The latest Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll shows Christie's statewide support dropping 20 points since the election -- he's also underwater at 41% approval, 44% disapproval -- while a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll shows the number of New Jersey voters who consider the governor trustworthy is evaporating quickly.
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