TRENTON, New Jersey – Republican Gov. Chris Christie, whose office is being investigated by legislative committees exploring the role that politics played in traffic jams last fall, must figure out how to address the scandal when he gives his State of the State address Jan. 14.
Christie’s administration has not revealed what he plans to say, but he will have a larger audience and announcements about tax cut plans will no longer be the most anticipated part.
The same could be true at the Governor’s inauguration for a second term next week, set to take place on Ellis Island, historically a gateway to the U.S. for millions of immigrants. The setting is meant to showcase Christie’s inclusiveness and ability to appeal to a broad swath of voters.
The intensifying investigation, which threatens to undermine Christie’s second term and his chances at a 2016 presidential run, revealed last week that high-ranking Christie aides and appointees were involved in closing lanes on the bridge linking New Jersey to New York City as apparent political payback that led to massive gridlock in the town of Fort Lee.
Christie, a rising star in the Republican Party, has apologized over the lane closings but denied involvement. He also fired a top aide and cut ties with a political adviser who’d been widely seen as a potential campaign manager if Christie runs for president.
A new special Assembly committee will be charged with finding out how high the plot went up Christie’s chain of command, said a leading state Democrat, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald.
“It is clearly an abuse of power,” he said. “The question is, who abused their power and how high did it go?”
The scandal widened last week when documents were released showing that, in addition to the apparent political retribution by Christie’s team, the mayor of Fort Lee asked Christie’s top deputy at the transit agency whether the lane closings were a punishment for him and why.
The mayor, Democrat Mark Sokolich, had noted that he didn’t endorse Christie for re-election but told CNN last week that he couldn’t recall “a specific request to endorse” from the governor’s campaign staff.
Sokolich shifted away from that assertion, saying in an interview at his law office that he did consider a request from the Christie campaign but ended up supporting the Democratic candidate. He declined to say why he changed his account or answer other questions about his interaction with the campaign.