Labor Day has signaled the unofficial end of summer, so we can return from the beaches and the mountains and leave behind the headlines of the last three months, including the Brexit vote in the UK, more terrorism in France and the glorious performances and accompanying scandals of the Rio Olympics. But those events will seem sanguine next to the full contact sports that await us in the fall, not least the farcical dance that is the unending US Presidential campaign. The first of these, the Bridgegate trial opening in federal court in New Jersey today, may not be the biggest event, but it is likely to be the most entertaining, as it combines both the basic elements of Shakespearean tragedy and not insignificant portions of his comedies.
Once upon a time, Governor Chris Christie was regarded as among the most serious Republican Presidential contenders, having ridden to a re-election in New Jersey that was thought to be a plebiscite on a conservative’s ability to garner bi-partisan support in a blue state. But his reputation proved to be a myth, as his apparent solving of the state’s perennial public pension problem fell victim to overoptimistic revenue projections, causing him to renege on his promised government contributions intended to fortify funding of the plans.
But if the pension debacle can be chalked up to typical political conduct by an overpromising politician, the events that began in September 2013 forming the basis of the trial and ultimately spelling the beginning of the end of Christie’s Presidential aspirations, can only be characterized as stranger than fiction.
As if we need to recall the bizarre occurrences of that time, what we do know is that senior aides to Christie appear to have arranged a “traffic study” that snarled traffic on the George Washington Bridge well beyond its usual daily level of absurdity as retribution for Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich’s, refusal to kiss Christie’s papal ring and endorse him in his largely uncontested re-election bid. As usual, public officials could not avoid the temptation to brag about their indiscretions, and the trial will prominently feature the infamous Bridget Anne Kelly “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email.
Of course, the big question at the trial will involve Mr. Christie, and, to paraphrase Howard Baker during the Watergate investigation, “what did the Governor know and when did he know it?” Although he is not among the accused, the Governor’s already dim political future, which is currently hanging by the thread of his shameless and self-serving boot-licking support of his rival for the title of the country’s greatest bloviator, Donald Trump, is also on trial.
Regardless of the trial’s outcome and the ability of Christie to avoid any further political, if not legal, stigma, at the end of the day, he has to be held responsible for the reprehensible events of that week in September, when countless citizens he was elected to represent were needlessly prevented from getting to school, job interviews, doctors’ appointments and other vital daily tasks.
While there is a widespread spectrum of legitimate opinion as to the extent and proper role of government, I venture to say that no one believes that it should be used to screw up people’s lives for the sake of political payback. But that is exactly what happened three years ago. I only hope that the process beginning today gets to the real roots of that shameful behavior.