Paranoia, casual sexism, and the petty politics of ‘Bridge-gate’

     In this Sept. 12, 2013, photo Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, right, stands with Gov. Chris Christie, left, during the massive boardwalk fire in Seaside Heights.  (AP Photo/Office of Gov. Chris Christie, Tim Larsen, File)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013, photo Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, right, stands with Gov. Chris Christie, left, during the massive boardwalk fire in Seaside Heights. (AP Photo/Office of Gov. Chris Christie, Tim Larsen, File)

    I’m trying to finish writing this as quickly as I can, because pretty soon I’ll need to nip out of the house to pick up my son from the rainy bus stop.

    See, my middle-schooler is the child of someone who voted for Barbara Buono, the Democrat who had the stones to run against Gov. Christie when many in her own party shunned her. And as we’ve learned this week, that fact alone makes my 12-year-old son a fair target for the cabal of wannabe goodfellas currently running the Garden State.

    I’m particularly worried my kid’s bus ride might be, y’know, compromised if I write the wrong thing about the Christie administration here.

    That likely sounds paranoid. Then again, until a few weeks ago, most New Jerseyans would have thought it beyond ridiculous to imagine Christie’s henchmen — and hench-woman, but we’ll get to her in a second — would stoop so low as to mess with commuter traffic headed toward the George Washington Bridge. But as we all know now, for four days in September a phantom “traffic study” ordered up by Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly delayed motorists, first responders and school buses, all just to spite a political rival or rivals.

    The furor might die down, but the scandal will likely repeat on Christie like a bad pork roll-and-cheese for the rest of his political life — if Christie even has a political life after reporters and federal investigators finish scouring the thousands of pages of correspondence on the case that were released Friday afternoon.

    Here’s how big the story is: Forget “The Daily Show” and even Rachel Maddow, who have both spent quality time this week holding the Christie cabal’s hands to the fire. Forget that New Yorker cover. Forget, even, that the story has now landed in a Croatian newspaper, owing to the Fort Lee mayor’s ethnic heritage.

    Friends, Christie has been Dowagered:

    Rosamund: “London Bridge was ghastly yesterday; it was as though one simply couldn’t get across!” Edith: “Oh, was Chris Christie in town?”

    — The Dowager Countess (@theLadyGrantham) January 10, 2014

    When the Dowager Countess of Grantham (or at least, the pitch-perfect Twitter account pretending to be the “Downton Abbey” matriarch) takes notice, you’ve hit the big time, baby.

    It’s no stretch to see why, as the story hits all the right notes: The larger-than-life governor forced to play the fool, the wily political operatives eager to curry favor with the governor by smiting the little guy, the dogged reporters calling on the phone and forcing the whole crew into cover-up mode.

    Casual sexism

    There’s even a whiff of sex, owing to the involvement of the blonde, steely-eyed Kelly, who until Thursday was Christie’s deputy chief of staff and, according to documents, was the one who gave the order to create the traffic nightmare in Fort Lee. And everybody knows you can’t have a blockbuster political scandal without at least one intriguing woman involved.

    I’m sure you’ve read by now that Kelly is a Catholic-schooled mother of four who dumped her golf pro husband a few years back. Of course you did, because most stories on Kelly have included those facts, presented in a some lame attempt to shock: Gasp! Can it be possible this cute blonde soccer mom could really be a ruthless political hack?

    Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out whether any of the men involved in the story are married or have kids. That doesn’t seem to make it into any of the stories. It’s all very 20th century, and utterly sexist.

    What it means to South Jersey

    But let’s forget the big time for a moment.

    Why should anyone here in South Jersey care about traffic tie-ups on the George Washington Bridge? Mostly, because the scandal isn’t about traffic, though that partly explains why the story has generated such wide interest. Everybody knows politics is a dirty business, but you don’t mess with some poor slob’s commute just because you can.

    Public money is involved in the quasi-governmental Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, an agency similar to the Delaware River Port Authority, which handles bridge crossings down here. So if you flew out of Newark Liberty International airport, or paid an Outerbridge Crossing toll to visit your in-laws in Staten Island last year, you kicked in some of the $150,000 salary given to Christie crony David Wildstein after they created a job for him.

    Public influence is also in play here, as South Jersey political leaders watch the situation warily and try to say as little as possible.

    South Jersey’s Democratic leaders, notably boss George Norcross and Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, publicly endorsed Buono but have been awfully friendly with the Christie folks over the years.

    Not far from my house, there’s a nifty multi-million-dollar highway bypass named after Sweeney, meant to ease traffic on busy Route 322 through Gloucester County. For sure, it helps my son’s school bus arrive on time.

    And up on Route 42, work continues on a billion-dollar project to create a direct connection to Interstate 295, a project meant to ease congestion there.

    So if worsening someone’s traffic is the ultimate way to screw them, alleviating it sure seems like a potential political reward. As Christie said, politics ain’t beanbag. But it ain’t rocket science, either.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.