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VOL. 129 | NO. 15 | Thursday, January 23, 2014

Vic Fleming

Damn This Traffic Jam!

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“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

“Got it.”

So read an Aug. 13, 2013, email exchange between a couple of New Jersey pols. Why Fort Lee?

Earlier efforts to pluck Democratic endorsements in the Garden State for Gov. Chris Christie’s reelection campaign had failed as to Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich. Moreover, the day before, the Democratic state senator who represents Fort Lee had effectively blocked Christie’s reappointment of a Republican state supreme court justice. On Aug. 12, Christie referred to Jersey’s Democratic state senators as “animals.”

The above cyberdialogue was between Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein (my emphasis; note the moniker irony, if you will). Kelly was Christie’s deputy chief of staff. Wildstein was the New York/New Jersey Port Authority’s “director of interstate capital projects”; he was hired by Bill Baroni, Christie’s appointee as Jersey’s highest P.A. executive. The P.A., owner of the George Washington Bridge, is jointly run by the two states.

Four weeks after the Kelly-Wildstein email, on the first day of school no less, two of Fort Lee’s three access lanes to the most-traveled bridge in the nation were closed without explanation. The closure lasted four days. Gridlock doesn’t begin to describe what ensued.

Sokolich asked the P.A., “What’s up with this?” He was told a “traffic study” was underway. Citizens complained, as did emergency rescue workers. And legislators. The N.J. General Assembly opened an investigation. Christie denied all involvement, accused the Democrats of playing politics, and said no one under him had engaged in political payback.

All I know of Christie is what I’ve read: Seton Hall Law School; a few years in private practice; elected to his county’s ledge; settled defamation case filed against him by the loser; lost election to state ledge; sued the winner for defamation.

Married, four kids, coached Little League, likes Springsteen music. Raised money for Bush in 2000, appointed U.S. Attorney by Bush in 2002, elected Governor in 2009.

Stumped for Romney in 2012. Ranted against Obama. Days later, thanked Obama for FEMA’s response to Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Made light of Fort Lee’s traffic tie-ups as they occurred. Has been “mentioned” for the presidency … blah blah blah. Blam! Bridgegate! (Or is it Bridgetgate? Whichever; it’s wild!)

On Dec. 12, Christie called N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and, it’s written, tried to shut down New York’s top P.A. official’s investigation into the lane closings. On Dec. 13, Christie reiterated that the lanes were not closed as political retribution. That same day, though, he accepted resignations from Baroni and Wildstein amid sworn reports that they’d violated protocol in bringing about the closings.

On Jan. 9, Wildman invoked the Fifth at the legislature’s hearing. And, apparently, Kelly had a chat with Christie—after which he fired her and, to the media, called her “stupid” and “deceitful.” She, he said, caused him to mislead the public. In a two-hour news conference, he pleaded with the world not to hold him responsible for her irresponsibility.

Using the above information, have a go at the I Swear Crossword, “Tearing Up Guv?”.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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