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Kathy Sullivan: Chris Christie’s bridge scandal will not go away

January 13. 2014 6:02PM

Well, Chris Christie’s 2014 is off to a bad start.

The news that Chris Christie’s appointee to the New York-New Jersey Port Authority had ordered lanes closed from Fort Lee onto the George Washington Bridge as retribution against a Democratic mayor who had refused to endorse the Republican New Jersey Governor has shaken the political world. The four-day closure caused massive backups, leaving some motorists sitting in traffic for hours. They also took place on the first day of school, creating problems for teachers, students and parents. There also were reports of delays by first responders.

Initially, Christie denied any involvement by his administration, reacting with his trademark sarcasm. When asked about the closures by New Jersey newspapers, he “dismissed questions about political retribution by joking that he moved the cones himself.” He also tried to distract from the issue by attacking the nerve of Fort Lee to have the ramps, saying, “The fact that one town has three lanes dedicated to it, that kind of gets me sauced.” This statement failed to take into account that folks from towns other than Fort Lee use the ramps. It is akin to saying no one other than Manchester residents would be hurt if Route 293 was closed. Residents of Bedford, Goffstown and other towns would be pretty “sauced” if their access to Route 93 was cut off.

Despite Christie’s denials, it became evident that members of his team were not only involved, but that his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, was in on the planning. Emails released last week had her corresponding with a Christie-appointed Port Authority official while she was in line at a wake. How creepily Sopranos of it all, plotting political payback while waiting to pay one’s respects. The day after the emails went public, the deputy chief of staff was fired, and Christie was telling the world how sad and humiliated he was by the whole thing.

Political analysts went into overdrive, issuing opinions as to what impact the scandal would have on Christie’s presidential aspirations. Steve Duprey, the New Hampshire Republican National Committeeman, said, “In the long run, I think it’s much ado about nothing.”

I disagree. While Christie may not have been involved, it was his political appointees who dreamed up the stupid idea, implemented it, and were so dumb that they left an email trail behind. The employees of any office of any governor in any state should know that they work for the people of the state — all the people, not just the people who may or may not support the incumbent governor.

Inherent in that knowledge should be the notion that purposely doing anything to disrupt the lives of the people of the state is not comical or proper, but is instead very, very wrong. Chris Christie surrounded himself with appointees who never got that message. Instead, he handed the keys to his administration to political punks who used the resources of government to inflict whatever havoc they thought would be fun that day. That is why Chris Christie’s inevitable nomination for President just took a very large hit: the incident goes to both his judgment and his failure to foster a culture of service to the public, as opposed to service to Christie.

Christie has a reputation for being an “it’s all about me” type of guy. Just ask anyone from the Mitt Romney for President campaign. Christie’s keynote address at the 2008 Republican National Convention talked all about himself, and little about Romney. He has a reputation as a bully, and revels in those moments where he publicly tongue lashes constituents or reporters. According to a 2010 New York Magazine article, he has an aide “whose job it is to capture these ‘moments’…When one occurs, Christie’s press shop splices the video and uploads it to YouTube…”

In December, The New York Times reported several instances of retribution against those who had disagreed with Christie. One can chalk a few incidents up to hard-nosed politics, but in Christie’s case, it happens far too often.

The scandal also proves all political roads lead to New Hampshire. The state Republican Party executive director, Matt Mowers, was the regional field director in New Jersey who tried to get the Fort Lee mayor to endorse Christie. Mowers’ boss at the time was Bridget Kelly. There will be a lot of questions for Mowers, such as, exactly what did he say to the mayor, and, was Mowers in on the planning discussion about how to retaliate against the mayor? At a time when the New Hampshire GOP should be focused on candidate recruitment, fundraising, and legislative priorities, Mowers will be distracted by the troubles in New Jersey.

Kathy Sullivan is a Manchester attorney and member of the Democratic National Committee. She was chairman of the state Democratic Party from 1999-2007.

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