Monday is the anniversary of the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that led to an ongoing scandal for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).
Democrats marked the occasion by holding a press conference at the base of the bridge where Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz described the incident as part of the Christie administration’s “culture of intimidation,” “bullying,” and overall “gridlock.”
“Right behind me, you see the epitome of Chris Christie’s gridlock,” Wasserman Schultz said. “The George Washington Bridge, the busiest bridge in the world, where one year ago, on the first day of school, Chris Christie’s administration put thousands of people in harms way.”
However, in spite of her harsh words for the governor, Wasserman Schultz, who is a Florida congresswoman in addition to her role leading the Democratic Party’s campaign arm, said she wasn’t attacking Christie because he’s a threat in the 2016 presidential race. Wasserman Schultz repeatedly referenced Christie’s rumoured White House ambitions, but when reporters asked if the upcoming election inspired the press conference, the DNC chair insisted she was simply concerned about the governor’s stewardship of New Jersey.
“I view Governor Christie as someone who is ignoring his constituents,” she said.
The lane closures on the bridge, which lasted just over four days, caused traffic jams and delays for emergency vehicles throughout Fort Lee. Some New Jersey Democrats have alleged the lane closures were ordered by Christie’s allies to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who declined to endorse the governor’s re-election bid last year. Christie has repeatedly denied having any involvement in the decision to shut the lanes, however, documents subpoenaed by an investigatory committee in the State Legislature showed close aides to the governor were involved in discussions about the closures before they were put into place. The matter is still being investigated by the legislative committee as well as federal prosecutors.
Along with the lane closures, Wasserman Schultz cited New Jersey’s economic issues, particularly last week’s credit rating downgrade for the state, as evidence of Christie’s “misplaced, backwards priorities.”
“On issue after issue, the political points Christie and his administration make are focused on one man — Chris Christie and not on doing whats best for New Jersey,” said Wasserman Schultz. “Bridgegate began Christie’s downfall. His popularity sank, his approval rating declined. … But Christie’s problems have only mounted since these lanes were closed one year ago. We’ve seen just how severe the damage of Christie’s failed economic leadership is. Under Christie, New Jersey ranks 48th in private sector job growth. Under Christie, New Jersey’s credit rating has been downgraded a record seven times.”
A spokesperson for Christie did not answer an email from Business Insider asking if they had a response to the claims made by the Democrats at the anniversary event.
Despite the ongoing investigation into the bridge lane closures, Christie is still considered a leading potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate. Wasserman Schultz said the bridge scandal and New Jersey’s economic issues show Christie is “a bully and a failed leader” and is not in a position to run for president.
“This is going to be the legacy and record that Chris Christie carries with him into a possible presidential campaign, a state stuck in reverse, a culture of intimidation, and incompetence, and pure gridlock,” Wasserman Schultz said.
At the press conference, Wasserman Schultz was joined by New Jersey State Democratic Party Chairman John Currie and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, who is running for Congress. Currie referenced the many theories that have been offered for why the lane closures were ordered.
“There is nothing normal or acceptable about a bridge being closed. The governor’s office put the people of the great state in danger,” said Currie. “Why? Was it a political score to settle, an effort to be a big bully, part of a real estate conspiracy, or just because he could?”
Currie said Democrats held their anniversary because they are “looking for answers.” Invoking the Watergate scandal, Currie said Christie’s response to questions about the lane closures showed he had “something to hide.”
Officials initially said the closures were part of a traffic study. An internal report prepared by lawyers for the governor subsequently refuted that explanation. Though the report found no wrongdoing by Christie, it concluded two officials “knowingly participated” in a scheme to “target” Sokolich by ordering the lane closures. Currie dismissed the report, which cost over $US6 million to produce, as an “erroneous” waste of taxpayer money.
Both Watson Coleman and Wasserman Schultz mocked Christie for recent trips he has made out of state and to Mexico.
“As we hear rumours of Governor Christie running around the world running for the presidency of the United States, I guess the question that arises with me is, in what world do your failures promote you to a higher office?” said Watson Coleman.
Wasserman Schultz argued Christie should be focusing on determining why the lanes were closed rather than beginning a presidential campaign.
“He should be leading the charge. It happened on his watch,” Wasserman Schultz said. “He should be leading the charge, not crisscrossing the country beginning to run for the presidency, testing the waters.”
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