New Jersey governor, enmeshed in scandal, to meet press

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 09, 2014 8:09 AM
New Jersey governor, enmeshed in scandal, to meet press

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a possible Republican White House contender enmeshed in a scandal over his staff's role in shutting down lanes onto the busy George Washington Bridge, will meet with reporters Thursday, his office said.

Christie will hold a news conference at his office in the state capital of Trenton at 11:00 a.m. EST (1600 GMT).

The controversy erupted with the public release of incriminating emails showing that a top Christie aide played a key role in closing some lanes to the bridge, in a ploy to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election.

The George Washington Bridge, one of the busiest spans in the world, connects New York City to Fort Lee.

The incident threatens to tarnish Christie's image and national standing as he weighs a 2016 bid for the White House.

In an editorial, New York's Daily News pronounced Christie's presidential ambitions as "all but kaput."

"He will be lambasted and lampooned as a man of low character and horrible judgment," the newspaper wrote. "Take his denials of knowledge with skepticism, and the man is a monster."

Taking a poke at Christie's heft and aspirations, the Daily News front page headline read: "Fat chance now, Chris."

After the emails were released, Christie said in a written statement on Wednesday that he had been misled by his staff and knew nothing of the lane closings before they occurred.

He said he was "outraged" and unsanctioned conduct" and vowed to hold people "responsible for their actions."

The abrupt lane closures, which lasted four days in September, caused hours-long traffic jams in Fort Lee.

A local newspaper reported that emergency responders were delayed in attending to four medical situations. One involved an unconscious 91-year-old woman who later died of cardiac arrest and another, a car accident, in which four people were injured.

"The bottom line is he has to come totally clean," said Doug Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College in New York.

"The problem for Christie is that this feeds into the pre-existing narrative that Christie is a bully, that Christie is a thug," said Muzzio. "If I'm running in a primary in 2016, I'm going to be saying, 'Do you want President Vindictive?'"

Christie has touted his ability to work with political opponents - most notably President Barack Obama after the devastating Superstorm Sandy in 2012 - as a mark of his skill at overcoming partisan divisions and forging alliances to get things done.

But the blunt-talking governor is known as well for engaging in shouting matches, hurling insults and belittling challengers.

The New York Times called on Christie to explain, apologize and clean house.

"Mr. Christie can start by getting rid of every one of his aides and cronies who knew about this scheme," the Times wrote.

The Wall Street Journal said it was a test of Christie's credibility.

"America doesn't need - after a year of revelations that the IRS was turned against President Obama's opponents - another chief executive willing to condone government attacks on his political adversaries," the Journal wrote.

"And Republicans don't need a presidential nominee who fulfills the liberal stereotype that he's a political bully," it said.

In the most damning email, Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly, wrote to a Port Authority executive in August, saying: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

The executive, David Wildstein, replied: "Got it."

In another message sent amid the gridlock, an unidentified author wrote: "Is it wrong that I'm smiling," and Wildstein responded: "No."

Christie has enjoyed immense popularity at home, particularly after his handling of recovery and rebuilding efforts following Sandy, and he was re-elected in a landslide in November.

"My prediction? The whole thing will blow over," Republican consultant Mike Murphy wrote in the Daily News. "The question is how Christie's hands-on, full-volume personality will wear with voters over time."

"Leaders with big personalities and strong appetites for unbridled authority have often done well in American politics. But some have stumbled badly," he said.

The emails were supplied to the media by Wildstein, the Port Authority executive, in response to a subpoena issued by a panel of state lawmakers. Wildstein, who admitted ordering the lane closures and resigned in December, was due to testify before the panel on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Bernadette Baum)