A scandal broke yesterday linking a senior member of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's staff to traffic congestion on a major bridge in September as a means of political retribution, Politico reports.
The governor, a likely presidential candidate in 2016, denied and even mocked reporters months ago when questioned as to whether his staff played a role in the lane closures. He blamed a traffic study as the reason for the traffic nightmare. Emails that emerged yesterday seem to tell a different story and may undercut Christie’s reputation as a straight-shooting truth-teller, Politico reports.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Bridget Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff wrote in an email on Aug. 13, 2013, to Port Authority official David Wildstein, a Christie ally, according to the Record (N.J.) and other news outlets, Politico reports.
"Got it," Wildstein replied. The next month, two of the town’s lanes to the George Washington Bridge were closed, causing backups for a week. A local columnist described it as a "disaster" that "quadruple[d] commuting time for some of the people who live closest to one of the nation’s busiest bridges," Politico reports.
Emergency responders reported that traffic delays affected their response times to four medical calls, including one to a woman who died shortly after reaching the hospital, the Record reports.
The lanes closures are believed to be direct retaliation to Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, who did not endorse Christie for gubernatorial re-election.
"This is absolutely the lowest level of political venom you could possibly even make up," Sokolich said on CNN Wednesday. "I think he has to publicly address the folks that are specifically impacted by this, I think apologies need to be doled out and I think reforms have to be put in place to make sure this never ever happens again."
In a written statement provided by his office, Politico reports that the governor claims he had no knowledge of the closures and vowed that "people will be held responsible for their actions."
"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," the memo notes. "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."
Read more at Politico.