Has Chris Christie Burned His Bridge?

TNH Executive Editor Constantinos Scaros and Dan Georgakas wrestle over whether the George Washington Bridge debacle has been an expensive tollgate for N.J. Gov. Chris Christie's Presidential hopes.

The National Herald Executive Editor Constantinos Scaros, a big Chris Christie fan, takes on Dan Georgakas, who’s no fan of the embattled New Jersey Governor, in a verbal tussle over whether Christie is still Presidential timber or a bully as the debacle surrounding the closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge goes on.

Part 1: Georgakas Takes His Shots:

Dino, you have written a number of times about NJ Governor Chris Christie as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. You have noted his populist style could be effective in many Democratic strongholds. All that changed when the public learned these past weeks of the chaos his administration perpetrated at the George Washington Bridge. I believe that incident has rightly doomed his presidential aspirations.

Due to actions by Christie’s closest political associates, the Bridge was in gridlock for four days. The chief culprit was Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly, whom Christie has fired. The purpose of the roadblocks was to punish Mark Sokolich, the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee. Sokolich’s offense was that he would not betray his party and back Christie, a Republican, in his bid for a second term. One of Christie’s boasts in that campaign was that he was non-partisan.

This mayoral “payback” severely stalled traffic on the world’s most heavily-used bridge. Numerous precious work hours per person were lost by the occupants of the 300,000 cars that use the bridge daily. School buses were dramatically delayed for the whole first week of classes. Critical hospital workers and services vehicles, including ambulances, were caught in the jam. Commerce in downtown Fort Lee was paralyzed.

This situation has placed Christie in an unwinnable position. If he knew of or ordered the closing, he has violated his oath of office. If he did not know, he does not control critical decisions made by his own government.

That Bill Stepien, his campaign manager, has resigned suggests the action was not solely Kelly’s. David Wildstein, one of Christie’s Port Authority appointees and the man who gave the actual closure order, has also resigned. This has led many to question Christie claims that he was “blindsided…embarrassed…and humiliated.” His administration has always been tightly run. Even his commissioners are not allowed to respond to calls from elected legislators until the governor gives his approval.

When Wildstein was called before a State Assembly Investigating Committee, he evoked his Constitutional right to remain silent. He says he will speak freely only if granted immunity from prosecution. Paul Fishman, the United States Attorney for New Jersey, has opened his own query as the George Washington Bridge is governed by federal statutes.

More than 900 pages of documents already in hand include arrogant emails sent by Kelly to other staffers. She dismissed the affected school children as the offspring of Democrats. She characterized the Fort Lee Mayor as “that little Serbian” (actually he’s Croatian). Her email directive that it’s “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” recalls the arrogance of the Enron stockbrokers who swindled rather than served their clients.

Christie’s inner circle is notorious for the heavy-handed methods it employs to deal with perceived foes in New Jersey, including Republican office holders. One can only shudder at the thought of Kelly, Stepien, Baroni, and Wildstein gaining control of the policing and regulatory powers of the federal government. And what does that say about the man who appointed them?

Christie has been very apologetic and self-critical. Perhaps, by 2016, voters will have forgotten this abuse of power. I think not. My own bet is that Hillary will never get a chance to use Fort Leegate as a battering ram. Christie’s Republican rivals will have beaten her to the punch. Increasingly, Chris Christie will be viewed as a Tony Soprano, affable at one level, but not a guy you want to do business with, much less rub the wrong way.

PART 2: Scaros Swings Back

Dan, this whole fiasco is very significant for me, not only because I think Christie has the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton in 2016, but also because I was a resident of Fort Lee when I was a teenager, and went to Fort Lee High School. As did Mayor Mark Sokolich, who was a year ahead of me (I didn’t know him well, but he seemed like a nice guy.)

Simply put, if Christie knew about this and let it happen anyway, then he deserves any bad publicity he gets – including having his 2016 presidential ambitions thwarted. It would make him Nixonian, and I wasn’t a fan of the first Nixon, and in no way want to see another one emerge.

But I’m not ready to condemn Christie just yet – and not because I’d like to see him throw his hat into the presidential ring. It is quite plausible that he really knew nothing about this.

Let’s suppose, for example, that you and I used this week’s Agora to, say, encourage people to commit crimes, and even gave them lessons how. In fact, let’s go all out: let’s say we called for the assassination of the president and his entire cabinet. Now, considering that our publisher entrusts me with the final editing, chances are it would go to press and he wouldn’t see it.

It’s possible that we might be arrested for promoting treason and other criminal activity. And that certainly wouldn’t be our publisher’s fault, would it? Because he would have known nothing about it.

Of course, you might say that our publisher uses good judgment in hiring us – who are not likely to write such things – whereas Christie used poor judgment by hiring people who held the George Washington Bridge commuters hostage – helpless pawns in a game of political payback. Fair enough.

But in the age of 24/7 reporting, what administration hasn’t been rocked with scandal? What President, for instance, hasn’t had a “Watergate-Lite?” And by that, I am certainly not suggesting that such scandals are okay, merely that the chief executives in question very likely had no idea they were going on.

Moreover, the Tony Soprano references (and I don’t fault you for those specifically – they are rampant), irresistible though they might be, are rather unwarranted. Just because Christie is an overweight Type A personality from New Jersey does not mean he is anything like the fictional mob boss played so brilliantly by the late James Gandolfini.

It is a brilliant political maneuver, though, to stick the “Tony Soprano” tag on Christie – it’s right up there with Obamacare’s “death panels.”

The Democrats, of course, have the most to gain by all of this. As it stands, Hillary probably would trounce virtually any non-Christie candidate, and she would outlast a politically-damaged Christie, assuming “Bridgegate” (that’s what I call it) overshadows Benghazi. Ironically, the Republicans think they have a lot to gain, too. They are still under the mass delusion that their Tea Party darlings, or their plain vanilla Christie alternative (you know, a Mitt Romney type) have a prayer.

I recently read a report about many retailers who suffer employee theft regularly. Surely, the companies hiring those employees do not endorse their stealing from the cash registers and the inventory shelves.

Obviously, the owners do not know it is happening, and yet those people are doing it – day in, day out. Similarly, many politicians’ staff members are committing crimes and other atrocities and their bosses haven’t got a clue.

I am generally a defender of presidents, and though Christie is not president (and at this point might never be), I think he, like many high-profile politicians, is just an easy target being scapegoated by the “player-haters.” And for that reason alone, I will continue to defend him vigorously, until and unless evidence points to his guilt.