A crazy peek into Jersey politics, and maybe into Chris Christie

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I'm doubtful that the political controversy now engulfing Chris Christie in New Jersey will have an impact on his presidential ambitions. After all, 2016 is still a long way off, which allows plenty of time for the story to fade. But it sure does offer an entertaining glimpse into the Jersey style of politics.

A quick recap: As a show of strength and bipartisan appeal, Christie recruited as many mayors as possible, Republican and Democrat, to endorse him in his recent re-election campaign. The Democratic mayor of the little borough of Fort Lee, right on the Hudson River, was one of the few who refused.

Shortly thereafter, access lanes linking Fort Lee to the heavily used George Washington Bridge were mysteriously and suddenly closed down for several days. The closure came with no warning to local police or authorities, no explanation and no publicity advising people to take alternate routes.

The resulting traffic jams were legendary, with tens of thousands of commuters forced to sit in gridlock for four hours or longer, each way. The traffic backed up onto local streets, producing gridlock there as well, and school buses ran extremely late for the first day of school. And as a lot of people noted at the time, the closed lanes just sat there, unused, with no work done on them.

Apparently, the joke was that the Christie administration had ordered the lane closure as retribution for the Fort Lee mayor's refusal to endorse him, but the thought was too ridiculous to be given serious credence. Sure, some people thought of Christie as a bit of a bully, but nobody would be so petty and vindictive as to hurt tens of thousands of uninvolved people just to make a political point.

As the Wall Street Journal reported at the time:

"Amid the controversy, there was even speculation that the closures could be retribution for (Mayor) Sokolich's decision not to endorse Mr. Christie in his re-election bid in November. The Christie campaign has received endorsements from at least 48 elected Democrats across the state, including 17 mayors.

Mr. Sokolich said he had a good relationship with the Christie administration and couldn't imagine he would be important enough for the campaign to punish him for not publicly endorsing Mr. Christie. The mayor said he was supporting Democratic Sen. Barbara Buono, Mr. Christie's challenger.

"I've always been incredibly supportive of Gov. Christie even in the face of people criticizing me for it. I find it incomprehensible that there's any truth whatsoever to these rumors," he said.

Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for the Christie campaign, said that any notion that Mr. Sokolich faced retribution for not endorsing the governor was "crazy."

Except it now seems more and more likely that that's exactly what happened.

A little investigation revealed that the closure had been ordered by two of the top people at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, both of whom were political appointees and close friends of Christie. They claimed the closure was done as part of a traffic safety study, but traffic engineers at the agency recently told a legislative committee that they were as surprised as anyone by the closure, that no such study existed and that they had never heard of a study that would be conducted in such a manner.

With their story falling apart, the two Christie allies have now resigned under fire. The second abruptly left office yesterday, although Christie claimed that his departure had been planned all along. And while there's no evidence that Christie ordered or even knew of the closures, he was still publicly peddling the "traffic safety study" explanation at his Friday press conference.

Again, without some evidence that Christie himself was involved in the shutdown, the story isn't likely to have a lasting impact on his career. But that's a hardball, kick-'em-in-the-groin style of politics they play up there, the kind that Tony Soprano himself would appreciate.

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