Thursday, January 9, 2014


The cliche goes, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” but in public politics, it’s usually the reverse, “Where there’s a fire, the smoke lasts long after the flames have allegedly been quelled.”

I’m guessing that’s going to be the story for New Jersey Governor and 2016 Republican Presidential aspirant Chris “I am who I am” Christie.

Today, the normally ebullient Christie seemed thoroughly cowed as he appeared at a news conference, answering, or better, fending off, questions for some 2 hours, about how his staff, he says, completely without his knowledge, created a 3-day traffic disaster at the Garden State end of the George Washington Bridge.

He was, in his own words, “sad”, “blindsided”, “humiliated and embarrassed” by the news that his long-time aide and deputy chief of staff, and his 2-time gubernatorial campaign manager, not to mention 2 of his top appointees to executive positions at the Port Authority of NY and NJ, had “punished” the Mayor of the town of Fort Lee, by closing lanes of I-95 and snarling traffic for hours for much of 3 days in mid-September of last year.

As the New York Times reported, “I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution,” Mr. Christie said. “And I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here, regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover, this was handled in a callous and indifferent way.”

Remember, this controversy has been on or near the front pages of New York and New Jersey newspapers and TV reports for months now, and Gov. Christie’s response was apparently no more serious than to call his political team together and ask if anyone had anything to confess.  No one did, and that seems to have closed the case for him.  No muss, no fuss; no fire, no smoke.

But a grey haze covers the New Jersey today from the Meadowlands to the Pine Barrens, and for many observers one of the smoke trails that will undoubtedly follow today’s “confession” will be a sense that Christie’s choice of words, “callous and indifferent” perfectly describes how he summarily fired his long-time staffer Bridget Anne Kelly and his top campaign-runner Bill Stepien.  Others may call the dismissals, “a surgical strike,” to rid the Christie Administration of its “bad apples.”

However one may describe Christie’s separation from his once-trusted colleagues, this unapologetic “surgery” is going to require, at best, a long period of “rehabilitation.”  My guess is, the follow-up to the incident is going to be more painful than rehab.

My guess is, this fire is going to unearth a long, smoky trail of similar incidents of political revenge that will become the perceived ceiling over Christie’s entire political career.  Not-flying weather. 

There have already been many complaints from local and state politicians, mostly Democrats, but some Republicans as well, about petty indignities and booming salvos from the governor’s admittedly “big mouth,” that were seen as paybacks for some, usually minor, dissonance or disagreement.  This one had his security coverage cut off, that one couldn’t get his phone calls about municipal and state business returned, and in the background, behind these complaints.  And I'll bet, many recorded instances of smirking celebration of “successful” micro-abuse from other, not-yet-fired members of the Christie clubhouse.

Mark Halperin and John Heilemann in their book,  Double Down: Game Change 2012  reported that “during vetting t[Presidential nominee Mitt Romney's] people were ‘stunned by the garish controversies’ lurking in the shadows of his record, which was ‘littered with potential land mines.’

The Newark Star-Ledger offered some details:

“Those obstacles included his decision to steer hefty contracts to donors and political allies, a Justice Department report ripping his spending on travel when he served as U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, as well as ‘unanswered questions’ about a defamation lawsuit from earlier in his political career, a stock fraud investigation involving Christie's brother, his household help, his time as a lobbyist and his medical history.”

Now that the Fort Lee smackdown is in the hands both of the US Attorney’s office and an investigating committee from the Democrat-controlled NJ Assembly, we can expect to learn of more such crimes against good governance, with each new charge adding to the conclusion that the “atmosphere” in the NJ State House during Christie’s Governorship was an on-going pandemic of egotistical nastiness and petty bullying.  Worst, and most damaging of all, the real victims were not the politicians in the Governor’s bulls-eye, but the citizens they and he were sworn to serve.

Each fresh puff of smoke from the Christie smokestack will emit the twisted chant, “I think he can’t, I think he can’t, I know he can’t be considered for President.”

It is exactly as the Governor said today: “I am who I am.”  The better people get to understand exactly what that means, the worse Chris Christie’s political future will be.   

“The evil men do lives after them,” as Shakespeare said.  In politics, as in much of the rest of life, “the smell of smoke long outlives the fire’s burn.”


  1. Add an item of skepticism. Some months from now a sharp reporter might check on what Bridget Anne Kelly is up to. Did she become the "designated 'fall-guy'?" and will there be a future reward for her? Or is she as much to blame as she appears to be?

  2. If she sent an unauthorized message on a government computer that affected interstate commerce (and it did), she's in violation of the Patriot Act. Poetic too, that it also delayed attendees to the 9/11 Memorial that day. To avoid that felony, all she has to do is say: "it was authorized... by my boss, Gov. Christie."
    This'll be interesting.

  3. Some say Christie may possibly face a criminal charges as Democrats demand answers for the possible orchestrated traffic. Others say the Governor is a political bully, claiming that he's followed around by aides waiting for moments where Christie, mustering the might and prestige of his office, annihilates some citizen who may decide to question him and making a record of it all.

    We suggest that Mr. Christie come clean in these sudden bridge-lane closures, and provide a verifiable explanation of this activity and call for an independent non partisan investigation and order his aides to cooperate. The person who rises as a bully may also fall that way too. Let that be a lesson to bullies all over.

    This is turning into an international disgrace.

    What will Christie do when he listens to "Open All Night", Bruce Springsteen's tribute to the New Jersey Turnpike?

    Read all about it: City Island Images -

  4. On the other hand, consider how Richard Nixon went from his loss in the race for President in 1960 to his loss in the race for governor of California in 1962 to his embittered press conference "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore" to being elected President in 1968 and 1972. And you know the rest. So it is premature to count Christie out, even if he did cause the bridge lane closures.