Emails tie NJ Gov. Chris Christie's office to bridge lane closures

4:03 PM, Jan 8, 2014   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) -- A series of e-mails indicate that a key member of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's staff knew about controversial access lane closures to the George Washington Bridge in September, at one point even suggesting it was time "for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," the Asbury Park Press reported Wednesday.

New Jersey lawmakers are looking into allegations that the shutdown, which caused a massive gridlock in the town of Fort Lee, located at the base of the bridge, may have been retribution for the refusal by the town's Democratic mayor to back Republican Christie in his re-election race last year.

The e-mail exchanges - conducted through personal e-mail accounts between David Wildstein, a longtime Christie friend and his appointee to the Port Authority, which oversees the bridge, and Bridget Anne Kelly, one of Christie's deputy chiefs of staff - show a vindictive motive behind the lane closures, which tied up traffic for four days.

Asked Wednesday, after the documents surfaced, Fort Lee mayor Mike Sokolich saidhe agrees with critics who alleged the gridlock was payback for not endorsing Christie.

"I've been punished not for something I've done, but for something I didn't do," Sokolich told The Wall Street Journal. "This is the behavior of a bully in a schoolyard. It is the greatest example of political payback."

The e-mails, obtained by the Asbury Park Press, were first published Wednesday in a story by The (Bergen) Record.

Christie has insisted that the lane closures were part of a traffic study and that neither his staff nor campaign had anything to do with the project.

The Record reported that Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the governor, declined to comment. Christie abruptly canceled a news conference scheduled for Wednesday afternoon without explanation. 

In the closures, which began on the first day of school Sept. 9, the normal three lanes of access were reduced to one lane, creating a massive traffic snarl in the town.

In one e-mail exchange on Aug. 13, Kelly tells Wildstein: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Wildstein's reply: "Got it."

The Record said it had asked Kelly for comment and was told: "I'm literally in the middle of a conference call. I'm going to have to call you right back."

Wildstein, a former high school friend of Christie's, has also insisted that the shutdown was part of a traffic study, but resigned in December, calling the bridge closure scandal a distraction.

Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority and another Christie appointee to the agency, also resigned in December.

In another exchange of text messages, an unidentified person responded to an allusion by Wildstein that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich had been complaining that school buses were having trouble getting through traffic during the closure.

"Is it wrong that I'm smiling," the recipient of the text message texted Wildstein.

"No," Wildstein replied.

"I feel badly about the kids," the person replied to Wildstein. "I guess."

In another exchange, on the first morning of the lane closures on Sept. 9, as traffic piled up through Fort Lee, Kelly wrote to Wildstein asking if Sokolich's calls to the Port Authority about the change had been returned.

"Radio silence," Wildstein wrote in return, the Asbury Park Press reported. "His name comes right after mayor Fulop."

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop has also complained of rough treatment by the Christie administration because he, too, did not endorse the governor.

New Jersey lawmakers investigating the circumstances of the closure have subpoenaed numerous documents, including e-mails.

Wildstein has been subpoenaed to testify before the Assembly Transportation Committee on Thursday.

Sokolich, unlike many Democratic mayors, did not endorse Christie for re-election in his landslide victory in November.

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