Bully-boy Gov. Chris Christie’s White House hopes hit a massive roadblock after emails implicated a top aide in a punitive George Washington Bridge traffic nightmare.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” read the damning Aug. 13 email made public Wednesday — the political payback to the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., for his refusal to endorse the GOP incumbent last year.
“Got it,” shot back the Garden State governor’s high school buddy, David Wildstein, to the message from Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs.
Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, told the Daily News on Wednesday he was appalled by the orchestrated gridlock in September.
“How low can you go?” he asked. “This is insane. It’s the worst example of a petty political vendetta . . . I’m embarrassed. And congratulations, you’ve just made New Jersey the brunt of every political joke for the next 25 years — again.”
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
The emails and texts implicate several Christie aides and appointees.
Comedian Jon Stewart was among the first to fulfill the prophecy. “Clearly, somebody is getting thrown under the bus here,” the Jersey-born funnyman said on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” “Fortunately for them, the bus isn’t moving. It’s stuck in terrible traffic.”
“Shame on you,” Sokolich said of the political plotters on CNN. He added he fears retribution and wants a criminal probe.
The mayor also had choice words for Wildstein, who had called him a “little Serbian” in an email. “Wildstein deserves an ass-kicking, okay? Sorry. There, I said it,” Sokolich (who is Croatian) said on MSNBC.
First responders were delayed in getting to emergencies, including a call about an unconscious 91-year-old woman who later died at a local hospital.
Asked if he had heard from Christie, Sokolich told The News the governor needs to address the people his staff put in danger during four days of madness. “Don’t explain it to me, explain it to the families that were waiting two, three times longer than they had to for first responders to arrive when their loved ones were clutching their chests because they were having either heart attacks or tremendous heart pain,” he said.
KEVIN R. WEXLER/MONIQUE LISA LIONETTI/NORTHJERSEY.COM
‘Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,’ Bridget Anne Kelly, right, a deputy chief of staff to Gov. Chris Christie, said in an email to David Wildstein, left, one of Christie’s appointees at the Port Authority. Kelly was referring to closing the George Washington Bridge as political payback for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s refusal to the GOP incumbent last year.
“Explain it to the family who was missing a child that the police had to respond to, or explain it to the thousands of families who couldn’t get their kids to school on time on the first day and the ensuing days thereafter,” Sokolich railed.
Christie, who denied months ago that his staff was involved in creating the chaos, said he first learned of the emails on Wednesday.
“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable,” he said in a written statement. “I am outraged and deeply saddened that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge.”
The governor said “people will be held responsible for their actions.”
He canceled his only scheduled appearance on Wednesday but he will hold a press conference at 11am on Thursday at his office.
Fort Lee, N.J.’s Mayor Mark Sokolich discusses the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday after the vindictive vehicular vengeance by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration came to light.
A cache of newly released messages portrayed Wildstein, a $150,000-a-year Christie appointee at the Port Authority, as an eager participant with Kelly in the vehicular vengeance. The governor’s hand-picked choice as PA chairman — David Samson — was also tarred by the burgeoning “Bridgegate.”
“Shame on you,” Sokolich told CNN on Wednesday evening, adding he feared retribution. The Fort Lee mayor also has called for a criminal probe.
Christie critics were quick to unload on a governor more used to throwing political punches than taking them.
“The governor has denied from day one that he knew anything about this,” said New Jersey state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. “Either the governor’s staff lied to him, or the governor was less than truthful with the people of New Jersey.”
State Sen. Barbara Buono, the Democrat who suffered a one-sided November defeat against Christie in the governor’s race, called for the immediate firing of anyone involved and a federal probe of the four-day lane closings on the world’s busiest bridge.
HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AP
Port Authority appointee Bill Baroni stepped down in December amid scandal.
“It’s not at all surprising,” said Buono of the nasty behavior. “I know Chris Christie. Nothing happens in his administration without him knowing.”
New Jersey State Senator Ray Lesniak plans to request that federal prosecutors in New York and New Jersey investigate the scandal, according to WABC.
A request will also to be made to the Manhattan District Attorney for an inquiry into the scandal.
The emails reinforced Christie’s persona as a meanspirited politician with a scorched-earth approach toward critics.
Matthew Hale, a political science professor at Seton Hall, told Reuters that Christie’s 2016 White House aspirations have taken a big hit.
BILL BRAMHALL/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
“The smoking gun is not quite in the governor’s hand, but these emails show that it is awfully close to it,” Hale said.
“Gov. Christie has spent an enormous amount of effort trying to get away from the narrative that he is a bully,” he said. “These emails destroy all of that effort in a single day.”
It was Sokolich’s decision to support fellow Democrat Buono that apparently set the bizarre lane-closing plans in motion.
A text message exchange between Christie appointees showed the callous chatters taking great delight in the gridlock — timed to coincide with the first day of school.
“Is it wrong that I’m smiling?” texted an unidentified underling.
“No,” Wildstein wrote in response.
“I feel badly about the kids. I guess,” read another text.
“They are the children of Buono voters,” Wildstein coldly replied.
In an email to Kelly, Wildstein stressed that complaints from Sokolich would fall on deaf ears. The mayor said his dozens of complaint calls were ignored.
Eventually, Sokolich was told a traffic study was the reason for the closings. A Sept. 13 email said PA Chairman David Samson played a role in the bogus “traffic study.”
JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES
Lane closures along the George Washington Bridge in September were political retaliation against a Chris Christie opponent, personal emails suggest.
“The New York side gave Fort Lee back all three lanes this morning,” read the Wildstein email. “We are appropriately going nuts. Samson helping us to retaliate.”
The chairman released his own statement insisting he was unaware of the vindictive lane closings.
“I am extremely upset and distressed over today’s disclosures,” said Samson. “To be clear, neither I nor anyone on the board had any knowledge of these lane closures” until a Sept. 13 email from PA Executive Director Patrick Foye. The Port Authority is conducting its own probe.
The agency placed cones blocking two of the three toll plazas from Fort Lee, resulting in hours-long delays that stretched into adjoining towns. The jam-packed streets wreaked havoc on local first responders — even delaying the search for a missing 4-year-old girl.
The emergency response time of Fort Lee’s three ambulances was tripled, and the gridlock forced the entire police department to direct traffic, said Borough Council member Jan Goldberg.
On Sept. 9, the first day of the traffic jam, an ambulance responded to a call for the unconscious elderly woman, Goldberg said. The typical two- to three-minute response time turned into seven minutes, and she was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. No one could say if the delay played any role in the woman’s death.
John Currie, chairman of the New Jersey state Democrats, said it was time for the Republican governor to stand up and come clean.
“I suggest the governor try a new approach when answering questions: honesty,” Currie said.
Wildstein resigned his position in December, as did Christie PA appointee Bill Baroni, as the scandal began to mushroom. Baroni, once a Jersey state senator, earned a $289,667 annual salary.