Political scandals, especially those involving Port Authorities and access lanes and traffic studies, can be more than a little dense. And that goes double when New Jersey’s complex world of political fiefdoms is involved. Here are the basics:
Q: So how, exactly, did this get started?
A: In September, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey closed two of three local access lanes from Fort Lee, N.J., to the George Washington Bridge, which connects the two states and is the most heavily trafficked bridge in the world. The closures, which lasted four days, created a traffic bottleneck in Fort Lee.
Q: How did it become a political issue?
A: In the days after, the media began asking questions — namely why two of three lanes were closed and why the authorities didn’t seem to be prepared for the ensuing traffic problems. The Port Authority said, at the time, that it was part of a traffic study. Two weeks later, New Jersey Democrats announced they would be looking more closely into the matter. Christie was overwhelmingly re-elected on Nov. 5. But soon after his victory, Democrats began to allege that the lane closures were politically motivated — specifically, that Christie’s office created the traffic jam as political retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing Christie’s re-election.
Q: Do Democrats have proof of this?
A: At this point, the only thing that has really been proven is that Fort Lee was targeted for a traffic jam and that both Christie’s staff and his appointees at the Port Authority were involved.
Q: Why would Christie’s office target a Democratic mayor for not endorsing him?
A: In most states and in most races, a Republican governor would hardly expect a Democrat’s endorsement, and certainly wouldn’t move to punish one who declined to give one. But this is New Jersey, and the same rules rarely apply. In fact, Christie was endorsed by several Democratic mayors.
Q: Was Christie involved?
A: To this point, there is no evidence showing Christie knew about or took part in the scheme.
Q: So who was involved?
A: So far, there are three major players.
1. Bridget Anne Kelly: Christie’s now-former deputy chief of staff — fired Thursday — appeared to get the ball rolling by sending an email to a Port Authority official saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
2. David Wildstein: He was the Port Authority official on the receiving end of Kelly’s email, to which he responded: “Got it.” An appointee of Christie, he announced his resignation in December.
3. Bill Baroni: He was Christie’s top appointee on the Port Authority. He resigned a week after Wildstein.
Q: Is any of this illegal?
A: Probably. But it’s not clear that criminal charges will result.