For Team Christie It Was Business as Usual to Call Fort Lee Mayor Sokolich “This Little Serbian,” Sierra Club’s Ken Tittle a “Rabid Partisan,” and Various Citizens “Idiots.”
UPDATE – 9:30PM: Rachel Maddow of MSNBC has raised the possibility that the George Washington Bridge blockage was political retribution against Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg rather than Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. More here.“Nixonian,” read the headline in the Editor’s Blog of yesterday’s Talking Points Memo. Comparisons to the administration of President Richard Nixon were inevitable when emails revealed aides and appointees of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie decided to make life miserable for the constituents of Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich by closing entry lanes to the George Washington Bridge.
The act was political punishment, perhaps against the Democratic mayor for not supporting Christie’s Republican gubernatorial candidacy. It caused an extensive traffic jam that paralyzed Fort Lee and delayed vehicular traffic for four days, including school buses and emergency responders. It was mean, small-minded and stupid. Clearly, Nixon was not referring to the likes of a Christie administration when he said in his 1970 State of the Union, “We must turn toward ending congestion and eliminating smog the same reservoir of inventive genius that created them in the first place.”
Anyone who has grown up in the New York metropolitan area, as I did, knows the travails of traveling the arteries that feed the interstates, parkways, and bridges; the environmental claustrophobia that sets in when breathing foul air in a traffic snarl that is also keeping you from school, work, a doctor’s appointment or, worse, an emergency.
The morning rush hour line of commuters inside the Fort Lee Starbucks is nothing compared to what lies ahead for those crossing the George Washington Bridge, just down Rt. 9W. But if you live there, the traffic that descends from scores of communities is something you must work around 24-7. It is not too much to say the entire tri-state region depends on Fort Lee citizens to make daily sacrifices to their quality of life.
Mayor Sokolich tried to get answers but could not. In one of the released emails David Wildstein, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, refers to the mayor as “this little Serbian.” Sokolich is of Croatian descent.
So, who in the Christie administration thought it a smart idea to punish Fort Lee? Perhaps the same people who decided to plunder the state’s clean energy and environmental funds during the governor’s first term. According to a May 11 story by Ryan Hutchins at the Newark Star Ledger:
Since taking office, Christie has taken more than $800 million from three funds dedicated to promote clean energy initiatives like solar and wind power and used the money to plug state budget gaps. Most of it has come from the Clean Energy Fund.
Another $194 million — more than half of the Clean Energy Fund’s anticipated revenue — would be siphoned under Christie’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
In addition, Christie has scooped up money from other environmental funds other governors never touched before — including one that provides grants to towns and encourages recycling and another that pays for damages caused by operating or closing landfills.
All told, if Christie’s proposed budget is approved, he will have diverted more than $1.2 billion from environmental funds since taking office in 2010.
In 2009, Christie’s campaign commitments to clean energy and protection of open spaces and fisheries had prompted the New Jersey Environmental Federation to abandon Democratic incumbent Governor John Corzine and endorse the Republican’s insurgency. Four year’s later, in an act Hutchin’s called “buyer’s remorse,” the Federation abandoned Christie for State Senator Barbara Buono who, in turn, was abandoned by most New Jersey Democrats in the face of the apparent Christie juggernaut. Even the Star Ledger endorsed Christie after calling him in the same editorial “a catastrophe on the environment.”
Addressing the “Bridgegate” revelations in a news conference today, Christie denied knowledge of the political retribution conspiracy, apologized, and announced staff terminations. He said that neither he nor his administration are “callous,” a defense hard to swallow for anyone who has viewed the famous YouTube videos of the governor calling various voters “idiots.” As reported in New York Magazine:
While his fellow governors tend to use their official YouTube channels to show ribbon-cuttings and speeches, Christie, a former federal prosecutor who relishes the thrust and parry of political debate, has turned his into a video library of gubernatorial smackdowns.
During the 2013 campaign, the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club joined the New Jersey Environmental Federation in endorsing Buono. It had parted political ways with the Federation in 2009 when it endorsed independent candidate Chris Daggett. Jeff Tittel, Sierra Club state director, was one of the very few persistent critics of the governor’s first term. The thin-skinned Team Christie lashed out immediately, pulling from the 1960s playbook of anti-environmental, anti-Sierra Club, environment vs. the economy bashing and name-calling.
Ryan Hutchins’ reported on May 29:
Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for the governor’s campaign, released a statement in the response to the endorsement: “Jeff Tittel has spent the last four years as a rabid partisan, opposing nearly every reform and solution Governor Christie has pushed forward with to fix New Jersey’s economy, create jobs, and protect our environment for the future. Naturally he would gravitate to Barbara Buono, the candidate who was part and parcel of the policies and decisions that wrecked New Jersey’s economy.”
In a bow to his own personal style today, Governor Christie said “politics ain’t beanbag.” He is correct. Politics and governance are a serious business and, from this moment forward, his once “refreshing” behavior will be viewed with fresh eyes. The state, and national, electorate will need new reasons to take Christie seriously, as some New Jersey environmentalists already learned the hard way.