Chris Christie is not having a happy new year. He is under heavy fire from former friends and longtime enemies who are eternally outraged by the Fort Lee, NJ bridge lane closures. He launched into a rambling, self-serving press conference that drew negative attention on a national scale. According to a Jan. 13 Business Insider article, Christie is now under investigation for allegedly misusing Hurricane Sandy relief funds. Those funds came from the Federal government and were intended for disaster relief work.
In true Christie fashion, the scandal is a simple one. He allegedly used $2 million of federal relief funds to launch a national ad and public relations campaign related to tourism. The campaign was to enhance New Jersey tourism at a time when people needed help with basic needs, like getting back into their homes and businesses.
The next problem involved Christie and his family members. He decided that he and his relatives should be the “stars” of the advertisements. This was while he was making it obvious that he had presidential ambitions and wanted to play on the national political stage.
The bidding process was the worst of the governor's problems, as a Jan. 13 Think Progress article reveals. The East Rutherford, New Jersey based firm MWW was awarded the contract under two suspicious conditions. MWW was chosen over a competitor that made a bid that was $2 million lower. MWW also contributed heavily to Republican and Democratic Party interests. The competitor, Sigma, made no political donations.
Another problem was Michelle Brown, a close friend and colleague of Christie, who installed her as chair of the bidding committee. She led the process of choosing the firm that would do advertisements and a public relations campaign. She approved MMW’s higher bid despite admitting that Sigma’s proposal met the project requirements at a lower price.
Brown had earlier controversies with Christie. She quit her job as a prosecutor in 2009 after she took a $46,000 loan from Christie.
The federal government is now investigating potential misuse of federal relief funds. U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) asked the department of Housing and Urban Development to look into the PR campaign and its bidding irregularities. The HUD Inspector General agrees that an investigation is in order.
The painful reality is that many New Jersey citizens have been waiting for their money since 2012. They still need to rebuild or tear down homes that were damaged so they can move on.
The painful reality of that lane closure scandal is also becoming more obvious. Christie faces multiple investigations and a growing suspicion that laws were violated. Children were trapped in school buses and ambulances were delayed.
While Christie seemed to be oblivious, his top aides were not. Recently released emails and memos indicate that some of his closest staff members joked and cheered themselves as they kept Fort Lee in a state of traffic turmoil.