Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) has hit the first serious obstacle in his widely expected run for the White House in 2016.
The New York Times reports that in September a close aide to the governor greenlit the closing of two lanes on the George Washington Bridge connecting New York City to Fort Lee, N.J., in retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee. The closures resulted in gridlock and inconvenienced thousands of commuters who use the bridge every day.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," wrote Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff, in an email to David Wildstein, who had been appointed to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey by Christie. (You can see the emails and text messages in their entirety here.)
Christie has yet to comment on the revelations.
While not the most earth-shattering of scandals, the sheer pettiness of the scheme could sour voters on Christie, who has tried to shed his image as a bully. Furthermore, Christie has previously denied that his office was in any way involved in the lane closings, which were initially billed as part of a "traffic study." (As the old adage goes, the cover-up is always worse than the crime.)
Christie reportedly had a beef with Fort Lee's mayor, Mark Solokich, because Solokich declined to endorse his re-election bid. The Times has published a series of texts between Wildstein and Kelly that cast the governor's team in a very ugly light.
In the emails and texts released Wednesday, Mr. Christie's staff and appointees were gleeful when the abrupt lane closings gridlocked the town for four days, beginning with the first day of school and including the anniversary of Sept. 11. Mr. Sokolich, who had not been informed of the closings, texted Bill Baroni, the governor's top appointee at the Port Authority, asking for "help" because the lane closings were making children on buses late to school.
"Is it wrong that I am smiling?" Mr. Wildstein texted Ms. Kelly.
"No," she texted back.
"I feel badly about the kids," he texted.
"They are the children of Buono voters," she said, referring to Mr. Christie's Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono, who was trailing consistently in the polls and lost by a wide margin. [The New York Times]
Buono, in response to the scandal, said Christie runs a "paramilitary organization" in New Jersey.
Welcome to 2016, everybody.
UPDATE: Gov. Christie has released the following statement:
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. 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.