New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's presidential aspirations have been dealt a serious blow by revelations today showing that his office purposefully closed traffic, creating a terrible logjam, to retaliate against a northern New Jersey mayor for not endorsing the governor during his re-election campaign.
The e-mails, disclosed by New Jersey media outlets and the New York Times, show that Christie didn't tell the truth when he said no one in his office knew about the lane closures. In fact, the closures were ordered by his staff weeks before they occurred, after the non-endorsement. His deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, comes across in the e-mails as a thug, gloating about the inconvenience the traffic jams were causing children, and the missives show Christie, or at least his staff, as heavy-handed, vengeful New Jersey politicians, an image that won't be attractive in other parts of America.
Last September lanes on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge were shut down by that state's officials, Christie appointees. The intent, the e-mails that came out today clearly indicate, was to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who had refused to endorse the Republican governor in his race against Democrat Barbara Buono.
At one point an unidentified person expresses some regret that the traffic problems were hurting kids, making them late to school. "They are the children of Buono voters," replied David Wildstein, a former official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge.
This is the first real scandal to hit Christie who, after his overwhelming re-election victory last November, has become one of the front-runners for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Here are three realities from the story: Christie's dissembling will cause him credibility problems for some time; Democrats, nationally, and in the Garden State Legislature, won't let the story disappear; and more heads will roll, including Kelly's. This is New Jersey, after all.
(Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)