Chris Christie's not-so-bad week: Bridge-gate looming less large

The Bridge-gate scandal that has beset Gov. Chris Christie, a possible presidential contender, is still under investigation. But at least no one died because of it, an AP analysis shows.

Paul Beaty/AP
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks to the Economic Club of Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 in Chicago. Christie was in Illinois this week to raise money for the Republican Governors Association that he chairs.

It was supposed to be Gov. Chris Christie’s year.

After a more-than-convincing reelection win in a state that is solidly blue, the Republican governor of New Jersey was supposed to use his bipartisan bona fides to slingshot out into the country, criss-cross states ahead of the November midterm elections, and raise hordes of cash for fellow Republicans – thus building a national network of goodwill and all-important donor lists for a likely presidential run.

But just over a month since Bridge-gate broke, good news comes for Governor Christie almost as an interesting side note.

The AP reported Thursday that the politically orchestrated traffic nightmare that ensnared Fort Lee, N.J., last September apparently did not cause anyone who needed urgent medical care to to die. After reviewing emergency dispatch logs and audio recordings from those [three??] days, the news agency concluded that “good fortune” prevented anything serious from happening, as police and medical personnel warned of “total gridlock” as they responded to 911 emergency calls.

There were chest pains, fender benders, and a few false fire alarms – even a dead goose in a parking lot – but nothing that might put Christie or his former aides in more serious legal jeopardy than they already potentially are.

The US Attorney and the New Jersey state legislature are investigating the lane-closure scheme that caused the gridlock, set in motion by close Christie aides as an act of political payback for Fort Lee’s mayor, a Democrat who withheld his endorsement for the governor's reelection.

For the past two weeks, Christie has followed his pre-Bridge-gate game plan, visiting Texas and Illinois and bringing in $2.5 million for the Republican Governors Association, which reported Tuesday that Christie, who is this year’s chairman, and others helped raise $6 million in January – a record month.

The scandal-dogged governor, moreover, showed signs of his old swagger this week during a luncheon hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago. Christie blasted Democrats' focus on income inequality, part of their campaign strategy heading into the midterm elections.

“You want income equality? That is mediocrity,” he said on Tuesday. “Everybody can have an equal, mediocre salary.” He also criticized the most vocal liberal Democratic voices on the issue, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “I don’t think they are affecting the rest of the country all that much,” he said.

And New Jersey State Police nixed one of Christie’s Bridge-gate problems this week, confirming that the governor did not fly over the George Washington Bridge in a police helicopter when its lanes were jammed with traffic last September. The New Jersey legislative committee investigating the scandal had been looking into allegations that he did.

“It's true, from a few perspectives Christie had a better week than he has had his entire second term so far,” e-mails Jeanne Zaino, a professor of political campaign management at the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies. “I thought his comments in Chicago regarding inequality were a particularly strong point because they really gave the GOP a long-needed blueprint on how to go forward countering the Democratic narrative, which is sure to dominate in 2014 and again in 2016.”

But this relatively “better week” belies his ongoing woes. The New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial board on Wednesday urged Christie to resign the Republican Governors Association, saying that with all the attention being given to the scandal, both by the press and by Christie’s beleaguered staff, no one is noticing that New Jersey is facing a fiscal crisis, its structural deficit now rated the worst in the nation.  

Bridge-gate is not the only scandal being investigated, don’t forget.

“Much of this is really out of Christie's control at this point,” writes Ms. Zaino. “The investigations are multiple and widening. Even if it turns out he is telling the truth about the bridge and even setting aside the serious questions it raises about his managerial ability – this entire scandal has raised other issues for him.

“Did his administration misuse [hurricane] Sandy [relief] funding? Did high-level people on his staff (including the Lt. Gov.) try to strong-arm the mayor of Hoboken into accepting that deal in return for [relief] funding?” she continues. “These and other questions seem to be more interesting to the US Attorney's office at this point than the bridge issue.”

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