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Notable controversies in Chris Christie's career

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January 24, 2014

By Kristen Mathews

Before the political revenge scandal known as "bridgegate" put newly re-elected Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie in the negative spotlight, he was suspected to be near the top of the Republicans' list of presidential potentials. Now, with the media combing through his history of scandals, his ratings have dropped from a steady 65% to a rough 43%.[1] Below, we take a look at recent and notable controversial events in Christie's political career.

George Washington Bridge

Bridgegate

A senior aide to Christie, along with two top political appointees, organized traffic jams in retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, after the mayor refused to endorse Christie in the 2013 elections. While Christie originally denied his office could have anything to do with the gridlock, a series of e-mails and text messages were released showing his aides' involvement in the jams. In September 2013, two access lanes from Fort Lee into New York were closed by the request of Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff, resulting in four days of gridlock for the area.

In an e-mail sent to David Wilstein, the appointee at Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which operates the George Washington bridge, Kelly wrote "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Three weeks later the access lanes were closed. Wildstein claims the lanes were closed as part of a traffic study. Kelly was fired for her involvement in the traffic jams as soon as the e-mails were released to the public.[2]

Many of New Jersey's newspapers' front pages covered the controversy on January 9, questioning Christie's innocence in the scandal. Christie responded stating, “I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better.”[3]

State Assemblyman John Wisniewski is leading an investigation into the administration as he believes laws were broken in the closing of the access lanes for political retribution. "I do think laws have been broken," he said. "Public resources -- the bridge, police officers -- all were used for a political purpose, for some type of retribution, and that violates the law."[2]

Governor Chris Christie

Access to the Region's Core tunnel

In 2010, a committee was designated to estimate the costs of building a tunnel to connect New Jersey to Manhattan and ease traffic on the connecting interstate highways. The tunnel was referred to as the ARC, Access to the Region's Core, and was projected by an original steering committee to cost between $11 billion and $14 billion. A separate investigative non partisan committee, led by the Government Accountability Office, estimated that the costs would be between $9.5 billion and $12.4 billion. A third estimate, by New Jersey Transit Officials, estimated the tunnel would not cost more than $10 billion.[4]

The new tunnel would run new trains increasing the total number available from 23 to 48, and transport crowds between New Jersey and Manhattan. Christie originally endorsed the project, which was estimated to create 44,000-45,000 new and permanent jobs along with 5,700-6,000 temporary construction jobs.[5][6]

Christie’s office then said that federal officials had “confirmed” that the tunnel would cost from $10.8 billion to $13.7 billion. New Jersey officials disputed that estimate, saying the tunnel would cost no more than $10 billion, according to a Government Accountability Office report.[4]

Christie said to the Star-Ledger: "I refuse to compromise my principles, so when they want to build a tunnel to the basement of a Macy's and stick the New Jersey taxpayers with a bill of $3 to $5 billion over, no matter how much the administration yells and screams, you have to say no. You have to look them right in the eye, no matter how much they try to vilify you for it, and you have to say no. You have to be willing to say no to those things that compromise your principles."[6]

The cancellation ignited suspicion that there was an ulterior motive behind Christie's halt to the project. While Christie maintained that he wanted to avoid the state being held responsible for potentially billions of dollars from an over budget tunnel, others felt he had other plans for the money earmarked for the ARC. In an effort to avoid raising New Jersey's gas taxes, Christie spent some of the earmarked tunnel money to refinance the state transportation trust fund three months after the ARC project was canceled.[5]

Construction had already started in Weehawkin, and the entrance to the tunnel, now referred to as the "Tunnel to Nowhere," had already been dug. Original projections showed construction would be completed in 2018, after which the tunnel would supposedly save commuters 23 minutes each way by eliminating train transfers. Penn Station's problems with overcrowding would also be lessened with the addition of a new station on west side of Manhattan and home values along the proposed new route would have increased due to their lessened travel time to Manhattan.[6]

New Jersey Shore

Loan to Campaign Aide

During Christie's 2009 gubernatorial campaign it was revealed that Christie loaned $46,000 to Michele Brown, a person he referred to as a personal friend in need. Brown was a top aide in the prosecutor's office and not immediately connected to the gubernatorial campaign. However, as the aide, she was able to persuade FBI agents and prosecutors to set the arrest date for over 40 cases of corruption to occur prior to July 1st, the date his successor was set to take over the office, so that credit for the arrests could go solely to Christie.[5] Brown also was able to handle Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by the challenging candidates campaign, which included information on Christie's travel and expenses while he was the US attorney for New Jersey.[7]

Christie apologized for failing to report his loan to Brown on his tax returns and ethics filings and Brown resigned from the prosecutors office the same day the Justice Department was told to relieve her of her duties as the Freedom of Information Act request coordinator.[7]

Tourism ads

The $60 million federal grant supplied to New Jersey in the Sandy relief package included money to create a tourism ad for a stronger New Jersey after the hurricane. The ad featured Christie and his family on the beach and highlighted Christie's actions to rebuild the state. The 30 second video titled "Stronger than the storm" was viewed as a campaign ad by Christie's critics and he was accused of spending the federal money to promote his accomplishments rather than highlighting the state.[5]

The ad's integrity was brought further into question after it was revealed that the ad agency with the lowest bid, the Sigma Group, proposed a fee $2 million less than the winning ad agency, but did not commit to featuring Chris Christie in their ads and was not ultimately awarded the contact. The committee responsible for awarding the contract was later learned to be made up of many people who worked for the Christie administration, including some who had previously worked for his campaign.[8][5]

State employee compensation reform

Christie received significant criticism for his successful effort to reform state employee compensation during the summer of 2011. Ultimately, Christie and his supporters in the state legislature were able to pass a bill eliminating cost of living adjustments for state employees and suspending collective bargaining over health care compensation. Twenty-one Democratic legislators -- eight senators, including Senate President Stephen Sweeney and fourteen assemblymen -- broke ranks with their colleagues to support the governor's reform bill.

The reaction from state union leaders, who strongly opposed reform efforts, was fierce. Christopher Shelton, an executive at the Communication Workers of America, compared Christie and his supporters to German fascists. According to Shelton, "the first thing the Nazis and Adolf Hitler did was go after the unions," adding "Welcome to Nazi Germany."[9] The reform bill's Democratic supporters also faced retaliation from their erstwhile union allies; at an August meeting of the AFL-CIO labor union, members voted not to endorse Sweeney and Sen. Donald Norcross in their 2012 re-election campaigns.

See also

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References