As soon as the story started to unravel, the pile-on began. Everybody jumped in -- friends, foes, the media, politicians, men in the street, know-nothings, know-everythings, a few women and children.
The engineered incident occurred in September of last year when New Jersey state officials closed down lanes that led to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, N.J., to Manhattan for a "traffic study." The result was instant chaos with thousands of vehicles brought to an immediate halt, emergency vehicles blocked and people stranded throughout the area for four interminable days. Workers couldn’t get to work, children couldn’t get to school. Businesses were cut off from customers, customers were cut off from needed supplies. Fort Lee became the equivalent of a medieval village.
Finally Gov. Cuomo of New York took action and the head of the Port Authority opened the three blocked entry areas. Rather than calming down, however, the situation went fireworks ballistic with new explosions taking effect as the old ones dissolved into burning sparks.
People didn’t just want to know what had caused this major emergency. They wanted blood. The local paper did a major league investigation and started coming up with names and revelatory emails. It turned out that one of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s major aides had, as Billy Joel might put it, "started the fire."
Bridget Anne Kelly on Aug. 13 sent an e-mail to David Wildstein, a close friend of Gov. Christie, whom he had named to the Port Authority, saying, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." She received a reply saying, "Got it." A little digging revealed that the mayor of Fort Lee, an unassuming Democrat, had turned down the aides of Gov. Christie who importuned him to back Christie rather than the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. He refused and payback was on its way with a vengeance.
Top officials in New York and New Jersey not in on the scheme were bewildered by what was happening and consequently blundered when they moved in to correct the situation. It took four days to clear the area with Christie’s aides chuckling at their own cleverness while, as in Nero’s time, Rome burned.
Gov. Christie denied any knowledge of the scheme or its participants. Everyone greeted this with knowing winks and tiny, tiny smiles. The know-it-all governor shook up his impeccable staff while people resigned or took the Fifth while being interrogated. The top female on the staff, Ms. Kelly, was bluntly fired. Christie, who had provided an encomium at her recent 40th birthday party, said she was "stupid."
So the incident has now become an issue about how much the governor knew and when he knew it. Is he basically a big, fat liar and bully who managed less than he thought, and does he still have a chance to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016? Everybody and his brother are starting investigations to investigate the charges and counter-charges, and witnesses and e-mails are popping up all over. It will take a while for this hurly-burly to die down, but in a couple of months other matters will rise to the fore and take over the headlines. The issue, however, will still be there, quivering every once in a while, ever ready to leap up again.
Gov. Christie journeyed to Fort Lee to apologize to the mayor, causing a minor traffic stalemate. The mayor said all he had asked from the governor was an apology to the people of Fort Lee, which was presumably humbly offered Christie-style.
Keep all your data on this incident because in four years it will be returned to front pages for further discussion during the actual presidential primary. Meanwhile, it will be a slumbering beast waiting patiently by the roadside.
Milton Bass is a regular Eagle