By ANGELA DELLI SANTI
2014-01-09 03:01 AM
TRENTON, New Jersey (AP) -- A top aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is linked through emails and text messages to a seemingly deliberate plan to create traffic gridlock in a town whose mayor refused to endorse Christie for re-election.
Christie, a star in the Republican Party who's considered a possible candidate for president in 2016, has denied that the lane closings were punitive and has said his staff was not involved. After the emails were made public Wednesday, he abruptly postponed a scheduled morning event.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly wrote in August to David Wildstein, a top political appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The authority runs the George Washington Bridge connecting New Jersey and New York City, one of the world's busiest spans.
"Got it," replied Wildstein. About a month later, he ordered closed two of three traffic lanes that connect Fort Lee to the bridge. That caused hour-long backups in Fort Lee during the first week of school.
The message was among a series of emails and texts obtained by The Associated Press and other news outlets Wednesday that are the clearest sign yet that Christie aides were involved in the lane closures.
Wildstein, a childhood friend of the governor, has resigned over the lane closings. He is scheduled to testify under oath before a state Assembly committee conducting one of three ongoing investigations.
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, originally described the closings as punitive, but later backed off that assertion.
At a news conference in December, Christie described the episode as "not that big a deal." He said partisan politics were at play and blamed the media for being obsessed with the story.
The governor has nurtured an image as both a tough talker who takes on such adversaries as public workers' unions and a politician willing to compromise. Democrats have increasingly criticized him for what they see as him tending to his national profile at the expense of taking care of New Jersey issues.
As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he's preparing to travel the country to help get Republican governors elected.
Among the communications obtained Wednesday is a series of unattributed text message exchanges among the Christie aides and appointees that show apparent satisfaction in response to the Fort Lee mayor's pleas of help to ease traffic.
In one, someone asks, "Is it wrong that I'm smiling?"