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Chris Christie Fires Top Aide Over Lane Closures

Submitted by on January 10, 2014 – 8:49 amNo Comment

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as taken swift action to address the controversy surrounding politically-motivated lane closures in September that swamped a New Jersey town with gridlock. But the issue may continue to linger, as federal prosecutors open an investigation, and Christie attempts to repair his battered public image.

“I come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey,” said Christie to a packed room of reporters yesterday, at the start of a nearly two hour press conference. “I apologize to the people of Fort Lee and I apologize to the members of the state Legislature. I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team.”

Emails leaked to reporters this week showed that the governor’s deputy chief of staff and longtime confidant Bridget Anne Kelly initiated the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge approach that turned Fort Lee, NJ into a veritable parking lot for four days in September.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” read the first email, sent to David Wildstein, a high ranking executive (and Christie appointee) at the Port Authority, which is composed of New York and New Jersey officials and administers sites like the George Washington Bridge.

As soon as the traffic problems occurred, some suspected that it was political retribution against Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor, who had not endorsed Christie in the recent gubernatorial election. One of the recently released emails was from Mayor Mark Sokolich himself, requesting clarification so that he may dispel the rumors.

Christie himself mocked the accusations at the time, sarcastically joking that he had personally moved traffic cones on the bridge.

But the emails show Christie confidants laughing at the troubles caused by the closures. When one raises concerns about children getting to school, Wildstein responds, “They are the children of Buono voters,” referring to Barbara Buono, Christie’s opponent in the last election.

Wildstein and another Christie appointee to the PA have both already resigned. Wildstein is being investigated by the state.

Christie claimed at the press conference that Kelly was fired ten minutes after he learned of the situation on Wednesday morning, without giving her a chance to explain herself. Christie still maintains he had no prior knowledge of the situation.

The traffic issues have been connected to slower responses to several emergencies, but it is unclear if the jam can be blamed for injuries or a 91-year-old woman’s death.

Regardless, Christie’s reputation as a no-nonsense, bipartisan dealmaker is severely tarnished. Christie is a rising star of the Republican party, and many urged him to run for president in 2012. He then was criticized by many in his party for praising President Obama’s handling of Superstorm Sandy, and declining to campaign for Mitt Romney.

Christie was seen as a frontrunner for the 2016 nomination, able to attract moderate Democrats and run against widespread frustration with partisan gridlock in Washington.

[via Reuters]

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