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Christie's traffic study . One more question

Ruminations, January 12, 2014

Christie’s bridgegate
-- Last September 9, with no notice to the public, multiple access lanes to the New York/New Jersey George Washington Bridge were closed in Ft. Lee, New Jersey leading to a traffic jam that lasted as long as the lanes were closed: three days. The ostensible reason for the traffic delays was a “traffic study.” The ensuing traffic jam snarled commuters, school buses, first responders and others.

Four months later, emails from the New Jersey governor’s staff disclosed that the claim of a traffic study was bogus and the reason for the lane closures may have been to punish the mayor of Ft. Lee (although that reason makes little sense, it’s the only one we have so far).

Last Thursday, immediately after the Bergen Record broke the story, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced that two members of his staff had been relieved of their duties and he would cooperate fully with any official inquiries. He then conducted an almost two-hour press conference responding to any and all questions.

So far so good. The press seemed to like the presumed Republican presidential candidate’s response. Giving Christie the benefit of the doubt, there is still one thing that doesn’t quite wash: his initial response to the traffic tie-up.

When a problem hits a politician’s constituency, more often than not the politician responds with a solution of some sort. On September 9, Christie did not. Nor did he respond on September 10, or 11. The traffic tie-up was big news, not just in New Jersey but up and down the East Coast. Why didn’t the governor do anything – like postpone the traffic study, put forth plans to alleviate the situation or cancel the study for the immediate future? He did nothing.

Christie’s excuse, as he stated in his news conference, was: “I was told this was a traffic study. … I probably wouldn't know a traffic study if I tripped over it.” Isn’t it Christie’s job to know enough about a “traffic study” (or to have trusted advisors who will explain it to him) and to make a decision on it and to discuss it with the electorate? After all, in 1945, President Harry Truman wouldn’t have known an atomic bomb if he tripped over it but he knew enough to make a decision regarding its use and could talk to the American people about it. In 1962, President Kennedy wouldn’t have known a moon rocket if he tripped over it but he knew enough to make a decision regarding its use and could talk to the American people about it. And a traffic study is not rocket science.

“[New Jersey] Senator [Bill] Baroni [who has since resigned as Port Authority Deputy Executive Director],” Christie said, “presented all types of information that day to the legislature -- statistics and maps and otherwise -- that seemed evidence of a traffic study…” The implication is that Baroni presented enough information for the state legislature to understand but not enough for a governor to understand even if he “tripped over it.”

A little later in his press conference, Christie either misspoke or was more candid when he said, “I don't know whether this was a traffic study that then morphed into a political vendetta or a political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study.” Indeed.

Christie has presented himself as a potential candidate for president who has many admirable qualities; he can get things done, works with the opposition and speaks candidly. It appears thus far that his performance in bridgegate leaves something to be desired – something that could derail his political ambitions for higher office: Apparently he initiates vendettas against those who don’t support him, he has no idea what his subordinates are up to or he is curiously uninquisitive about a gigantic traffic problem and traffic studies.

If there is another answer, it needs to be discovered sooner rather than later.

Quote without comment
Colonel (retired) Andrew J. Bacevich, author and historian, writing in The New Republic, July 7, 2010: "Who is more deserving of contempt? The commander-in-chief [George W. Bush] who sends young Americans to die for a cause, however misguided, in which he sincerely believes? Or the commander-in-chief [Barack H. Obama] who sends young Americans to die for a cause in which he manifestly does not believe and yet refuses to forsake?"