Another Mayor Felt Christie-Tied Reprisal

Throughout his four years as governor, and particularly in his re-election campaign last year, Mr. Christie has worked his powers of government as an arm of his political operation, awarding favors to those who rewarded his political ambitions and punishing those who got in his way. A system of give and take has always been part of American politics, but the documents from Jersey City, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, demonstrate Mr. Christie’s particularly aggressive embrace of it.

The accusation that he used his powers to punish those who did not support him is now presenting Mr. Christie with the greatest political challenge of his career. Last week, documents showed that one of Mr. Christie’s top aides gave the signal to his associates at the Port Authority to close two lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in an act of political, traffic-jamming vengeance against the mayor of Fort Lee, a Democrat who had declined to endorse the governor.

Two Christie allies at the Port Authority have resigned. Last week, Mr. Christie fired the aide who gave the signal for the lane closings, and cut ties with his former campaign manager, who had been involved in an effort to hide the political motive for the lane closings, and who had written emails disparaging the mayor.

On Monday, as Mr. Christie prepared to give his State of the State speech on Tuesday, Democrats in the Legislature said they would name a special investigative panel with subpoena power to continue looking into the lane closings, and said they expected to subpoena more Christie loyalists as soon as Thursday, when a special legislative session convenes to discuss the investigation.

Federal investigators announced that they would audit Mr. Christie’s use of Hurricane Sandy relief money on a $25 million ad campaign that featured his family to promote the Jersey Shore. And a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll showed that Mr. Christie’s popularity — while still enviably high for a politician — had suffered its first hit since Hurricane Sandy sent it soaring. While 70 percent viewed the governor in a positive light a year ago, 44 percent did in the poll conducted Friday through Sunday.

More than 80 percent of those polled said they had heard about the scandal, and about the same percentage of them said that they expected more aides to be implicated. A majority — 51 percent — of those people who were aware of the lane closings said that the governor had not been completely honest about what he knew about the subject.

Mr. Christie had been working to get Democrats to support him since the morning after he was elected in 2009. He made his first stop as governor-elect at a community center in Newark run by the political boss who then ran much of northern New Jersey.

His re-election campaign worked aggressively last year to get Democratic officials to endorse him, holding well-choreographed news conferences and keeping a running tally in news releases and on Twitter whenever another signed on.

His political advisers said they wanted support from Democrats so that the governor could present himself to his national party as the presidential candidate who could win among groups that typically do not support Republicans.

The mayors he courted particularly aggressively were not only Democrats; they also represented important blocs he wanted to win: Hispanic voters in Harrison and in Union City, which has the highest concentration of Hispanics in the state; and Democrats and blacks in Essex County, which includes Newark.

Jersey City, across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan, is the second largest city in the state, and Mr. Christie’s office was known to be working hard to win an endorsement from Mr. Fulop, a 36-year-old Iraq war veteran whose victory in May in a nonpartisan election signaled him as a rising star in the Democratic Party.

Mr. Christie called him the night he won. The next morning, according to records, Mr. Christie’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, texted Mr. Fulop to say the Christie administration would do as much as Mr. Fulop wanted to get help from the administration.

Mr. Christie’s office then set up a full day of meetings, and scheduled appointments with commissioners or heads of six different administration agencies, including transportation, economic development, the state treasurer and the commissioner of community affairs — the government official who handles state aid to municipalities, among other matters. Meetings were also set up with the director of Hurricane Sandy recovery and Bill Baroni, the governor’s top appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who resigned as the bridge scandal began to heat up last month. Emails indicate that the Christie administration planned to send staff members from the governor’s office as well.

“We’re looking forward to working closely with you and your administration,” wrote Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to Mr. Christie — and the aide who was revealed last week to have given the signal to close the lanes on the bridge. She added, “Some of the conversations may be simple and introductory, while others may focus on actual pending projects and issues.”

Mr. Fulop and his aides had numerous entreaties from Mr. Stepien and others — though not the governor — to endorse him. But Mr. Fulop decided that he could not. His city has a large population of gay men and lesbians, and the governor was fighting the Legislature’s attempt to legalize same-sex marriage.

After Mr. Fulop told Christie aides on July 18 that he would not endorse the governor, the commissioners began calling to cancel. Almost all cancellations came within an hour, and the remaining ones followed closely on their heels. That the commissioners called the mayor’s office personally shows an unusually close level of involvement for high-ranking government officials.

When Mr. Fulop then reached out to Mr. Baroni in early August to ask to reschedule — and asked if the timing was related to “political conversations” that had been taking place — he got no response.

On Monday, Mr. Christie’s office accused Mr. Fulop of having a political motive in discussing the canceled meetings. And the governor’s office, its staff noted, has had meetings with Jersey City officials since the mayor declined to endorse him.

But the meetings they noted were all in the last several weeks, since the bridge scandal increasingly called attention to the governor’s hardball politics.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment