Nel's New Day

March 28, 2014

Christie’s Solution: Blame the Women

The dangerous traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey to New York happened almost seven months ago, but Gov. Chris Christie’s problems aren’t going away.

Earlier this week, Christie released a report from his personal lawyer exonerating him at a $1-million cost to the state’s taxpayers. The 344-page report was prepared for the man who Christie calls a “very dear friend,” the man who Christie award a lucrative corporate-monitoring contract in 2007. The $650-per-hour guy did leave a few holes. Investigators didn’t interview David Wildstein, the former director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who was targeted as the person behind the lane closures. They also didn’t talk with Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Stepien, the governor’s former campaign manager. Nor did they talk to David Samson, Port Authority chair and Christie ally who is also involved in the cover-up. All four of these people no longer work for Christie.

Also in the report:

  • Kelly sent the eight-word “time for traffic problems in Fort Lee” email the day after she checked on whether the Fort Lee mayor had endorsed Christie. He didn’t, and Kelly wrote that this was all she needed to know.
  • Wildstein said that Christie knew about the closure when it was happening although the governor gave different times when he was asked–maybe weeks afterward, maybe right after the lanes reopened, maybe during the closures. Although Wildstein told Christie about it at a 9/11 memorial on the third day of the closures, the report just states that Christie didn’t pay much attention to is. The lead lawyer, Randy Mastro, said, “There are traffic problems all the time with the bridges and tunnels, so that would not be a significant event, a memorable event.”
  • Stepian also knew that the closure was for retribution. Before it happened, he called it one of Wildstein’s “50 crazy ideas.” Stepian also received angry forwarded emails from the Fort Lee mayor during the closure, called the mayor an “idiot” in notes to Wildstein, and praised him for his savvy. While the report provides this information, it claims, “We found no evidence [that Stepian] knew of the ulterior motive here, besides the claimed purpose of conducting a traffic study.”

The report’s conclusion blames only two people: Wildstein and Kelly. The report insinuates that Kelly orchestrated the closures because she had been “personally involved” with Stepian and he had dumped her. Kelly is described as “emotional,” “erratic,” and a liar. The references to her as a recently divorced mom add to the “slut-shaming.” By reporting that “events in Kelly’s personal life may have had some bearing on her subjective motivations and state of mind,” the authors suggest that her female emotional distress led her to cause the traffic jam that affected tens of thousands of commuters.

Even Stepian thought the report went too far. His lawyer released a statement denouncing the report’s “gratuitous reference” to Stepian’s “brief” relationship with Kelly as “a regrettable distraction.”

The report also alleges that Kelly asked an aide to delete an incriminating email at the beginning of the investigation. Mastro’s report heaps blame on Kelly, noting that Kelly got Stepian’s old job “though she lacked Stepien’s expertise and background.” One of the criticisms of Christie was that he canceled meetings with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. The report accused Kelly of canceling the meetings although documentation clearly shows otherwise.

Another finding of the report is that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claims, that Christie refused Sandy recovery funds to her city because she didn’t support a Christie-supported development, is “demonstrably false” and “do not match objective reality.”

Proof that Zimmer didn’t feel strong-armed, according to the investigators, came from a video tape of a PBS political panel. She yawned. “A person does not normally yawn when being threatened, coerced, or spoken to improperly,” according to the report. And she smiled.  “Yawning during the middle of commissioner constable’s statements and then smiling during the end of his statements is hardly the demeanor one would expect of someone who is actually being threatened,” stated the report.  There was no mention of whether any of the men involved in the scandal either yawned or smiled.

Notable about the report is that there is no documentation of what the investigators claim to have examined. No text messages, emails, or other documents. As Rachel Maddow said, “They just published this one long narrative today, with unrelenting, glowing, gauzy characterizations of Governor Christie’s strength and leadership and character throughout this difficult time.”

MSNBC’s conservative show Morning Joe, unflaggingly supportive of Christie during the scandal, is shocked by the report. Mark Halperin called the attacks on Kelly “sexist and gratuitous,” and Joe Scarborough compared Mastro to “Baghdad Bob.” Christie may escape from this one, too, because both the men are blaming Mastro, and not Christie. The man hired to prepare the report may be the next Christie associate to get thrown under the bus.

Even Norm Ornstein, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, found the report wanting. “The idea that this is an independent report and that [Randy Mastro is] not basically a lawyer for the defense I found almost laughable,” he said.

For $1 million, taxpayers got the following advice: administration staff should be restricted from using personal email accounts to conduct official business, and Christie should hire an ethics officer. If so, that person might want to work with Christie and his lawyers on sensitivity training.

This weekend, Christie is still following his dreams of being president as he heads to Las Vegas to get campaign money out of Sheldon Adelson at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting. He’ll need more than money to overcome his overt sexist bullying.

The bridge closure was a non-story until a transportation reporter for Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal metro New York section started to follow it. Large chunks of the report show Christie followers frantically responding to questions and articles from Ted Mann. When Rachel Maddow picked up on the story, it went viral, and the media hasn’t let go. Without the Fifth Estate, Christie might have easily sailed to the top of the GOP presidential heap and even gone on to run the country.

Although Christie claims that he had done nothing to close the bridge lanes, the constitutional question, shown by Richard Nixon’s dilemma, is whether he knew anything about it when it was happening. The report doesn’t address that issue. Yet his press conference today showed the old Christie as he responded to reporters’ questions. “I don’t know whether you can’t take notes or you can’t listen,” he said to one of them and then before called his question “awful and beneath the job you hold.” He snapped at another one when he cut off her question, “You have to get the facts right if you’re going to ask me a question.”

Christie and Mastro may have gone too far with their misogyny.  Kelly is known as a determined, honest, hard-working person. Today her lawyer issued a statement:

“There appear to be two distinct versions of the George Washington Bridge lane closings. On the one hand, Mr. Wildstein, through his counsel, has taken one clear position. On the other hand, Mr. Mastro has staked a different view. Thus, Ms. Kelly’s evidence could be critical to verifying either of the two competing versions of events… The only credible investigation into the lane closings is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. If Ms. Kelly were provided with the appropriate procedural safeguards, she will be fully cooperative and provide truthful and complete answers to any questions asked of her by the appropriate law enforcement authorities.”

It’s like a badly written novel that we can’t stop readingl.

January 21, 2014

Christie Going Nowhere on His Bridge

Almost ten years ago, Republicans in Congress got into trouble when Alaska’s s Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens, tried to push through $320 million federal funding for a bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina Island, where the town’s airport is located. The bridge, almost as long as the Golden Gate Bridge and taller than the Brooklyn Bridge, would have saved people a 15-minute wait for a ferry to the mainland. Notoriety about the funding resulted in the appellation “Bridge to Nowhere,” which the ultraconservative Heritage Foundation described as “an embarrassment to the people of Alaska and the U.S. Congress.” The funding was removed for 2005 but kept reappearing in bills as late as 2011.

GW_BridgeLast fall, another “bridge to nowhere” reappeared. This time it was a bridge between New York and New Jersey which happens to be the busiest bridge in the world. With an annual load of 102 million vehicles, the George Washington Bridge connects to the Cross Bronx Expressway, ranked the worst roadway for congestion in 2012. Drivers waste more than six days in traffic every year.

Drivers spent a bit longer last year because the Port Authority closed two of the three access lanes from Fort Lee, on the New Jersey side, in September 9, 2011. Streets turned into parking lots for four days because no one would tell Mayor Mark Sokolich why this was being done. Not until a few weeks ago did the public learn that a top aide to Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) recommended the closing of the lanes through an email that read “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” The revelation of the email continued the number of officials abandoning the sinking ship of Christie’s bridge. Although Christie swears that he had nothing to do with the closures, he also swore that none of the people in his administration had anything to do with the closures–until it was revealed that they did.

Ordinarily this disaster would be concern only the people of New Jersey, who recently re-elected Christie to a second four-year term. The governor, however, was—until recently—considered a top possibility for the 2016 GOP presidential candidate, the only one who isn’t attached at the hip to the crazy Tea Partiers. He is so eager to stay in favor that he threw several of his friends under the bus of politics, declaring himself shocked, stunned, humiliated, etc. He repeatedly claimed that he fired these people because they lied to him, not because they did anything wrong.

A top consideration of Christie is the danger of closing the busiest bridge in the world on the 12th anniversary of two airplanes hitting the Twin Towers in New York City. School children sat on buses for hours. Problems in emergency included the search for a lost four-year-old and the delayed arrival of an ambulance for a 91-year-old woman in cardiac arrest. She later died.

Did Christie deliberately have the lanes cut down out of retribution for people who offended him? No one knows—yet. An early assumption was that Fort Lee’s Mayor Sokolich, a Democrat, refused to endorse the governor for his re-election. A later possibility came from a billion-dollar development project next to the lane closures. Shutting down the lanes would quash the development, a keystone of Mayor Sokolich’s tenure.

Or the closure could be part of feud over state Supreme Court nominees. Since Christie refused to re-appoint a Democrat justice, the Democrats have been at war with the governor. It came to a head when he also refused to re-appoint a friend of his as justice because he would not “let her loose to the animals [state Senate Democrats].” The email requesting “traffic problems in Fort Lee” came the day after Christie’s angry speech, and the leader of the Senate Democrats at the time was a senator from Fort Lee.

Many people find it difficult to believe that a governor would retaliate against people in such a way. But a pattern of Christie’s behavior indicates a vengeful person:

  • After former Gov. Richard Codey publicly disagreed with Christie, the current governor removed his state trooper protection, never before done.
  • The same day that Codey disagreed with Christie, a Codey cousin was fired from his position at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a former Codey aide was removed from the New Jersey Office of Consumer Affairs.
  • After State Sen. Sean Kean (R) told a reporter that Christie had made a mistake in not declaring an emergency earlier during a 2010 blizzard, Kean was banned from the next news conference Christie held in Kean’s home district. A Christie aide told the newspaper that Kean “got what he deserved.”
  • After Rutgers Professor Alan Rosenthal backed a re-districting map more favorable to Democrats, his state funding was slashed.
  • After State Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R) voted against Christie’s public medical education system reorganization, the confirmation of a judicial candidate who Bateman recommended was stalled.
  • After Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop failed to endorse the governor, meetings with Christie and top commissioners were abruptly canceled.

In his press conference after the first torrent of emails were released, Christie claimed that he is definitely not a bully. Videos provide the background for these quotes from Christie:

1. [To a teacher:] “If what you want to do is put on a show and giggle every time I talk, well then I have no interest in answering your question.”

​2. [To a former Navy SEAL:] “Your rear end’s going to get thrown in jail, idiot.”

3. [To a reporter:] “You know Tom, you must be the thinnest-skinned guy in America…you should really see me when I’m pissed.”

​4. [To a constituent:] “Hey Gail, you know what, first off it’s none of your business.”

​5. [To a former White House doctor:] “This is just another hack who wants five minutes on TV…she should shut up.”

​6. [To an Occupy Wall Street protester:] “Something may be going down tonight, but it ain’t going to be jobs, sweetheart.”

7. [To a reporter:] “Are you stupid?…I’m sorry for the idiot over there.”

8. [To a person on the street:] “You’re a real big shot. You’re a real big shot. Just keep walking away. Keep walking.”

Christie’s bullying went as high up as the GOP presidential candidate in 2012. An excerpt from Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s Double Down: Game Change 2012 published last fall describes Christie’s ability as a “fundraising dynamo” with the caveat that he was a demanding person:

“Months earlier, Christie had banned Romney from raising money in New Jersey until Christie had given the O.K. to do so—a move Romney found galling, like something out of The Sopranos. Are you kidding me, Mitt thought. He’s going to do that?”

Mitt Romney had even vetted Christie for his vice-president. The only requirements were that the person be considered qualified to be Commander in Chief and that the person have no distractions in the background. The vetters used the nickname “Pufferfish” for Christie. Pufferfish didn’t make the cut.

Chris Hedges described Christie as “Wall Street’s anointed son for the presidency … backed by the most ruthless and corrupt figures in New Jersey politics, including the New Jersey multimillionaire and hard-line Democratic boss George Norcross III. Among his other supporters are many hedge fund managers and corporate executives and some of the nation’s most retrograde billionaires, including the Koch brothers.”

Hedges explained that the bridge closure “is a window into how federal agencies and the security and surveillance apparatus would be routinely employed in a Christie presidency to punish anyone who challenged this tiny cabal’s grip on power. Christie is the caricature of a Third World despot. He has a vicious temper, a propensity to bully and belittle those weaker than himself, an insatiable thirst for revenge against real or perceived enemies, and little respect for the law and, as recent events have made clear, for the truth. He is gripped by a bottomless hedonism that includes a demand for private jets, huge entourages, exclusive hotels and lavish meals.”

Part of Christie’s baggage comes from his wife, Mary Pat Christie, a bond trader currently managing director at Angelo Gordon, an investment firm in New York. Her resume includes JPMorgan Chase, Fleet Securities, and Cantor Fitzgerald.

The rest of Hedges’ comments are well-worth reading.

All these behaviors demonstrate a very bad choice for running the United States. Future blogs will focus on opinions—both right and left—about Christie, his possibly illegal activities, Christie’s current approach to the problems, and a glass-ball look into the future.

Today Chris Christie was inaugurated for his second term as governor. Mother Nature rewarded him with a snow storm that closed down parts of the Northeast.

Update: After I posted this, I received a correction about Don Young being Alaska’s representative. The person also sent the following reaction:

“Don’t get me started on Ketchikan’s Bridge to nowhere.  You haven’t arrived at Ketchikan Airport at midnight after overhearing Juneau because of weather.  The airport closes, you wait for the ferry, you pay $150.00 for a hotel… you arrive at 1 a.m., you have to be back at the airport at 4 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight hopefully back to Juneau.  That means you have to get the ferry at some other ungodly hour.

“There was and is a good reason for the bridge which we aren’t going to discuss.  I’m on the side of Senator Stevens on this one. ”

 

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