The latest accusation in the burgeoning New Jersey bridge scandal is devastating. If true.
Right now, all we have is the word of Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that Governor Chris Christie directly ordered the withholding of Hurricane Sandy recovery funds for her city if she refused to back a Christie-endorsed redevelopment plan.
Zimmer repeated her charge — first aired on MSNBC Saturday — on CNN’s State of the Union, claiming she was approached by Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno in a parking lot last May with the message of a quid pro quo. “She said that to me — is that this is a direct message from the governor.” Guadagno denied the accusation.
Zimmer met with the federal prosecutors later Sunday, providing the U.S. Attorney’s Office with documents, including her journal in which she claims there are entries substantiating her assertion that the lieutenant governor and another state official “made a direct threat.” Zimmer promised to “provide any requested information and testify under oath about the facts of what happened when the lieutenant governor came to Hoboken and told me that Sandy aid would be contingent on moving forward with a private development project.”
Zimmer’s accusation has the potential to torpedo the governor’s national aspirations — if proven true or if other local officials come forward with credible claims of similar heavy-handed political horse-trading. The allegation is serious because it undermines Christie’s appeal as a politician who reaches across the aisle to get things done, especially when it concerns the well-being of all the citizens of his state. The mayor’s assertion turns Christie into a ham-handed politician, and it reinforces the image of the governor as a bully.
Christie always walked a fine line, combining qualities of blunt talk and tough leadership that make him attractive to many Republicans while appealing across the party divide to demonstrate he is a politician who gets results. Blunt and tough easily morphs into bullying and heavy-handed. Add to those unappealing traits the accusation of corruption, and Christie quickly becomes a doomed politician.
Christie already is reeling from the bridge scandal. He told a crowd of Florida Republicans on Sunday that he hasn’t “enjoyed the last 11 days. No sane person would.” He said discussion of a possible White House bid is on hold until next year as he focuses on governing New Jersey and working — as newly installed chair of the Republican Governors Association — to elect fellow GOP governors this fall.
According to one attendee at the Florida fundraiser, Christie said “the answer to any 2016 questions is, ‘Come and see me next year.’” When asked when the bridge scandal would pass, he said, “I wish I knew, but it couldn’t be soon enough.”
The governor continues to maintain his distance from the swirling allegations. He claims he didn’t know about the closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge, his aides did it on their own and then lied to him about it. As for the mayor of Hoboken, she made it up, the diary and her conversation with the lieutenant governor.
Christie’s deniability works only so far. If the charges keep coming, his denials will look less and less credible, which is the lesson of every scandal from Watergate until now. In the media age, the drip, drip, drip of accusations and leaks is what kills.
Politicians never seem to learn that obvious lesson.