(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.
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
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.
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."
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.
deputy executive director of the Port Authority and another Christie
appointee to the agency, also resigned in December.
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."
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
"Radio silence," Wildstein wrote in return, the Asbury Park Press reported. "His name comes right after mayor Fulop."
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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