April 11, 2024
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April 11, 2024
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Traffic Tie-Up on The Way to the White House

Chris Christie was virtually coasting to the nation’s capital. With a huge win in November to capture a second term as Governor of New Jersey, Christie turned his attention to the White House and solidified his spot as a front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

After showcasing his political prowess with a decisive victory in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, Christie was looking forward to taking his act to the national stage as head of the Republican Governors Association. Things were looking good for Chris Christie. And then, in a stunning turn of events, Governor Christie hit a roadblock on the way to Washington.

“Bridgegate,” as it has become known, suddenly threatened to derail Christie’s plans. What had been in the news somewhat sporadically since September quickly exploded into a national scandal.

Top members of Governor Christie’s administration and inner circle evidently initiated lane closures in Fort Lee near the George Washington Bridge, which caused terrible traffic tie-ups and wreaked havoc on drivers for several days. What made the story so shocking is that the lane closures and the ensuing chaos was an apparent act of political retribution aimed at the Mayor of Fort Lee, a Democrat, who declined to endorse Christie during the Republican governor’s re-election bid.

The shocking revelations were initially met with silence from the Governor. When the story broke, Christie abruptly cancelled his public appearances and we did not hear from him all day.

The pundits took to the airwaves to opine how Christie could probably never recover from Bridgegate and his presidential stock plummeted. People began drafting his political obituary.

And then came word that the Governor was going to hold a press conference the next day to address the recent turn of events.

Hordes of reporters, including numerous representatives from national media outlets, descended upon Trenton to witness what was unquestionably the most significant point thus far in Chris Christie’s political career. Saying the wrong thing at this critical juncture could very well mean the end of his presidential aspirations.

In a nearly two-hour press conference, during which time he responded to countless questions from reporters, Chris Christie delivered the performance of his career. The normally brash and outspoken Governor was unusually humble and contrite. As he proclaimed that the buck stops with him, Christie apologized profusely for his staff’s actions and for what he termed their “abject stupidity” and “callous indifference.” He announced that he fired his Deputy Chief of Staff, Bridget Kelly, whose “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email was at the center of the storm. He also noted that he ordered his top political aide and former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, to withdraw his name from consideration for chairman of the New Jersey Republican State Committee and to resign his consulting position with the Republican Governors Association. And he issued what seemed to be a heartfelt apology to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, the residents of Fort Lee, the members of the State Legislature, and the people of New Jersey.

From a public relations perspective, Chris Christie’s presentation at the press conference was brilliant. In what was a virtuoso performance, Christie seemingly extricated himself from the political abyss and climbed back from the brink of political disaster. People who had written off Christie in the morning were suddenly lauding him in the afternoon.

Yet, at the same time that the Governor was wrapping up his marathon press conference, David Wildstein, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority who was yet another casualty of the scandal, was appearing at a state Assembly hearing to answer questions about his role in Bridgegate. Unfortunately for Christie, Wildstein’s response to each question asked by the lawmakers was identical. “Under advice of my counsel, I reserve the right to remain silent.”

Wildstein’s decision to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination raised a whole new set of questions. The situation was further exacerbated when the U.S. Attorney’s office announced that it would commence an investigation into Bridgegate in collaboration with the FBI. In addition, New Jersey state lawmakers vowed to press forward with subpoenas and hearings into the growing scandal.

Although Governor Christie’s epic encounter with the press helped him dodge the initial bullet, he still faces a barrage of slings and arrows that are being hurled his way.

There are a slew of headlines that continue to hammer away at the Governor. The media, sensing that there may be more to this story, have doggedly delved deeper into Bridgegate with new resolve. Stories are surfacing about other Democratic public officials who were approached by the Christie campaign to endorse his reelection effort, and the “repercussions” that ensued when they declined to support him. Additional stories, such as the possible misuse of Superstorm Sandy funds to produce a tourism ad featuring the Governor and his family, have emerged as well.

Being in the political spotlight is a difficult place to be. Being in the presidential limelight is even more grueling. You are constantly under a microscope and your every move is scrutinized by the press, your political opponents, and the public at large. One misstep could instantly morph into a political free fall that may be beyond repair.

Bridgegate might be that defining moment for Chris Christie. Although he said all the right things at his big press conference and his demeanor was right on target, we have not heard the last of this scandal. There will undoubtedly be more potentially troubling details that will surface and Governor Christie’s future inevitably hangs in the balance.

If the Governor’s claims that he knew nothing about his staff’s decision to tie up traffic at the George Washington Bridge hold true, he may escape from this scandal, albeit a bit damaged. If, however, we learn that he was not entirely forthcoming, the closest Chris Christie may get to the Oval Office is the public tour of the White House that is open to every other ordinary citizen.

Whatever the outcome, the fact is that Chris Christie hit a major traffic tie-up on his way to the White House. Whether or not he can find a way to skillfully circumvent the bottleneck en route to the Beltway remains to be seen.

N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and a principal of Paul Revere Public Relations, a public relations and political consulting firm. Visit him on the Web at TroodlersTake.blogspot.com, www.PaulReverePR.com, or www.JewishWorldPR.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: _troodler

By N. Aaron Troodler, Esq.

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