Author Topic: Stories Add Up as Bully Image Trails Christie  (Read 265 times)

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Offline Rapunzel

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Stories Add Up as Bully Image Trails Christie
« on: January 10, 2014, 05:32:37 PM »

Stories Add Up as Bully Image Trails Christie
Richard Perry/The New York Times
Officials in both parties say he exacts revenge for even mild criticism, an assertion Christie mocks.

Published: December 24, 2013

In 2010, John F. McKeon, a New Jersey assemblyman, made what he thought was a mild comment on a radio program: Some of the public employees that Gov. Chris Christie was then vilifying had been some of the governor’s biggest supporters.


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He was surprised to receive a handwritten note from Mr. Christie, telling him that he had heard the comments, and that he didn’t like them.

“I thought it was a joke,” Mr. McKeon recalled. “What governor would take the time to write a personal note over a relatively innocuous comment?”

But the gesture would come to seem genteel compared with the fate suffered by others in disagreements with Mr. Christie: a former governor who was stripped of police security at public events; a Rutgers professor who lost state financing for cherished programs; a state senator whose candidate for a judgeship suddenly stalled; another senator who was disinvited from an event with the governor in his own district.

In almost every case, Mr. Christie waved off any suggestion that he had meted out retribution. But to many, the incidents have left that impression, and it has been just as powerful in scaring off others who might dare to cross him.

Now, the governor is dogged by another accusation of petty political revenge. Two close political allies ordered the abrupt shutdown of two local access lanes on the George Washington Bridge in September, gridlocking Fort Lee, N.J., for four days. The borough’s mayor said it was punitive because he had declined to endorse the governor’s re-election.

The governor mocked the suggestion as preposterous. But Democrats in New Jersey — and privately, some Republicans too — say it would hardly be out of character for Mr. Christie. As the governor prepares to run for president, the accusation has reinforced his reputation as a bully.

“Every organization takes its cues from the leadership as to what’s acceptable and what’s not, and this governor, in his public appearances, has made thuggery acceptable,” said Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski, the Democrat leading the hearings that have exposed the role of the governor’s aides in the lane closings. “For the governor to say, ‘I knew nothing about this’? He created the atmosphere in which this is acceptable.”

It was the governor’s penchant for confrontation that first propelled him onto the national stage in 2010. As he pushed to cut public employee benefits, his staff celebrated video clips of him dressing down teachers at town hall-style meetings by posting them on YouTube. (“You want to come up here? Come up here,” the governor said to one teacher, a fellow Republican, who hesitated until the governor’s security state troopers gave him no choice. Wagging a finger, Mr. Christie lectured the man, then dismissed him from the hall.)

But his confrontations are not always that public.

In 2011, Mr. Christie held a news conference where he accused State Senator Richard J. Codey of being “combative and difficult” in blocking two nominees. Mr. Codey, a Democrat who had served as governor following the resignation of James E. McGreevey, responded that he had not only signed off on the nominations, but had held a meeting to try to hurry them along.

Three days later, Mr. Codey was walking out of an event in Newark when he got a call from the state police superintendent informing him that he would no longer be afforded the trooper who accompanied him to occasional public events — a courtesy granted all former governors. That same day, his cousin, who had been appointed by Mr. McGreevey to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was fired, as was a close friend and former deputy chief of staff who was then working in the state Office of Consumer Affairs.

“I understand politics, that a new administration comes in,” Mr. Codey said, but he believed this was not about Mr. Christie bringing in his own people. “This was all about sending a message.”

The governor laughed at the allegation of retribution, and his spokesman belittled the Democratic Party chairman who complained about it.

 Later that year, the governor was pressing hard on Alan Rosenthal, the Rutgers political scientist whom Republicans and Democrats had chosen as the tiebreaking member of the commission that was redistricting the state’s legislative districts. Mr. Christie wanted Mr. Rosenthal to vote for the map put forward by the Republicans on the commission, but instead he chose the Democrats’ plan, saying it offered more stability.

Soon after, Mr. Christie used his line-item veto to cut $169,000 for two programs at Mr. Rosenthal’s institute at Rutgers.

The apparent payback is not always directed at Democrats — Mr. Christie can be just as hard on Republicans in an attempt to enforce party discipline.

In 2010, when a blizzard paralyzed the state, State Senator Sean T. Kean, a Republican, told a reporter that the “one mistake” the Senate president and governor had made was not calling earlier for a state of emergency, which might have kept more cars off the roads.

Mr. Christie was smarting from criticism that he had remained at Disney World during the storm. When he returned, he held his first news conference in Mr. Kean’s home district. Shortly before, a member of the governor’s staff called Mr. Kean and warned him not to show up. His seat was eliminated in redistricting the following year.

Mr. Kean, now in the Assembly, declined to comment. At the time, an anonymous administration official told The Star-Ledger that Mr. Kean got what he deserved.

Last year, another Republican, State Senator Christopher Bateman, voted against the governor’s plan to reorganize the state’s public medical education system. Mr. Bateman had been working with the governor to get a judge appointed in his home county. Suddenly, after months when it looked as if it would happen, the nomination stalled.

Mr. Bateman, too, declined to comment. But last month, when it came time for Republicans to elect a new leader in the State Senate, he first expressed support for the current leader; then, when Mr. Christie supported someone else, he voted for the governor’s candidate.

(Indicating the governor’s ability to use favor as well as fear, all the Republicans who voted for his preferred candidate, who lost, were rewarded with tickets to the governor’s box at a recent New York Giants game. “I felt kind of cheap,” one said, but added, “to say no is an insult.”)

The governor’s close lieutenants often deliver the message. Bill Baroni, one of the two appointees now accused of exacting revenge with the bridge lanes, once called Bill Lavin, an officer with a state firefighters’ union, after hearing him on the radio.

Mr. Lavin had told the interviewer that the unions and the governor had been talking past one another, and needed to start talking to one another. He thought he was extending an olive branch to the governor.

Mr. Baroni, then a Republican state senator, called Mr. Lavin with a message from the governor, and then used an obscene phrase to describe what the governor thought he should do.

Mr. Baroni declined to confirm or deny the incident in The Star-Ledger; he did not respond to messages seeking comment.

“What he said a couple of times,” Mr. Lavin recalled, “was: ‘The governor told me to make sure you don’t get this message mixed up; say these exact words.’ ”
“The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be, Freemen, or Slaves.” G Washington July 2, 1776

Offline Rapunzel

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Re: Stories Add Up as Bully Image Trails Christie
« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2014, 05:36:44 PM »

How damaged is Chris Christie?

By Dan Balz, Published: January 9 E-mail the writer
 Two months after winning reelection in a landslide, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has hit the lowest point of his political career.

The fall came quickly for the brash governor. His reputation for blunt talk and his seeming enthusiasm for confronting anyone who disagrees with him always have been part asset and part liability. The worry for Christie is that the scandal over massive traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge, ordered by his own people, could tip the scales decisively in the direction of liability.

Two months ago, he was being touted as the nominal front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Now, his prospects for claiming the White House are clouded by controversy. His first real effort at damage control came Thursday, when he made a public statement, apologizing to the people of New Jersey and announcing the dismissal of two key members of his team. He then answered reporters’ questions for more than 90 minutes. It was a start in containing the damage, but only that. Investigations will follow, and no one can know where they will lead.

Christie is on the defensive because of a petty act of vengeance by aides and associates, who apparently decided to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., for not endorsing the governor’s reelection bid. The damning language that turned controversy into full-blown crisis on Wednesday will become a memorable entry in the lexicon of American politics: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

That was the message e-mailed by Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, to David Wildstein, a longtime Christie friend and one of the governor’s two top appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“Got it,” Wildstein e-mailed back. A few weeks later, major traffic tie-ups occurred around Fort Lee because several lanes on the bridge were closed.

None of the released e-mails touched Christie directly, and he insisted in a written statement Wednesday and repeatedly during his news conference Thursday that he knew nothing about his office’s involvement until the messages became public.

Christie adopted a far different personality Thursday from the one he had when the issue first arose late last year. Back then, he was dismissive and defiant about suggestions that he or his aides were involved in the traffic mess.

On Thursday, he was repentant about the fact that what he had said earlier was not the truth. He said he was “embarrassed and humiliated” by what his aides did. He tried to explain how someone whose campaign slogan was “leadership now” could be as forceful and commanding as he claimed in the reelection effort only to have a staff go rogue, as CNN’s John King put it, and then lie to him about what happened.

As with the early stages of political scandals, broad conclusions about where they will lead and what damage will be incurred are risky. The controversy has touched off a fevered round of speculation about just how badly Christie has been hurt and how much this episode could hamper his chances of winning the GOP nomination or general election in 2016.

Among those watching closely, two thoughts have emerged: If there is anything that ties Christie directly to what happened, the controversy will probably be fatal to his political aspirations. If not, the issue is whether this becomes a moment that fades quickly or whether it leaves lasting doubts about the governor’s character and temperament.

A Republican strategist with close ties to the party’s establishment wing, where Christie has been strongest, said before the news conference that the controversy had caused some reassessment of Christie among those who had been predisposed to consider him the GOP’s strongest candidate.

The reasons are twofold. First, the instinct to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich reflected bush-league thinking. Christie did not need the mayor’s endorsement to win reelection. And he had other Democrats backing him. Republicans cannot stomach the idea of a 2016 campaign with a nominee who isn’t politically competent and adept. Christie and his team had earned a reputation for competence. Now that’s called into question.

His apology at the top of his news conference no doubt helped ease that concern, but the more important question is whether his contrition ultimately is viewed as a genuine change in his otherwise aggressive posture or merely a short-term strategy to get through this controversy. From here forward, anything that reinforces the image of a belligerent politician will be all the more problematic for him.

Christie announced two important personnel moves in the wake of Wednesday’s revelations. He fired Kelly, who wrote the most damaging e-mail, which was widely expected. Less predictable was his decision to cut ties with Bill Stepien, one of his closest advisers and his campaign manager during the reelection effort. Stepien was slated to become chairman of the state Republican Party and a consultant at the Republican Governors Association, which Christie now chairs. “Actions have consequences,” Christie said.

Some Democrats volunteered their assessment that in the early stages of his news conference, Christie was handling himself rather deftly. But one Republican strategist, Mike Murphy, tweeted as the session moved past the one-hour mark: “Christie presser is a microcosm of strength and weakness of his style; v[ery] strong start, then a troubling excess of first person singular.”

The news conference will not end the scandal. There will be further investigations led by Democratic legislators in Trenton and perhaps elsewhere. The sight of Christie on the defensive will embolden his Democratic opponents to challenge him in other areas.

Christie is fortunate that the presidential campaign is well into the future — although not quite as remote as he tried to suggest on Thursday — and that the voters in the early primary and caucus states are paying minimal attention to any of the maneuverings underway.

“This probably costs him the momentum he had in the national space and potentially complicates the finance side at the least,” said one GOP strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer his analysis. “If it spirals out control, it could be ultimately very, very bad, but I don’t think we are there yet.”

David Axelrod, President Obama’s longtime chief political strategist, said he expects Christie will survive unless the trail of what happened on the George Washington Bridge leads back to him.

“Otherwise, I am very, very reluctant to call it ‘fatal,’ ” Axelrod said in an e-mail. “One of the great flaws we have in our world is an impulse to judge these things in the moment as existential crises, of which, it turns out, there are very few in the annals of politics. If he deals firmly with the offender, and the trail doesn’t lead directly back to him, my bet is that this will be a, well, bump in the road.”

Another Democrat, who has been through several presidential campaigns, said Christie’s actions in the coming days will be crucial and closely watched. He said that if the governor handles the controversy skillfully, and that what he said Thursday holds up, this would be an issue, but not a dominant one, in the Republican primaries.

But this Democrat also said that the residue of the bridge scandal could spill into a general-election campaign, should Christie win the nomination. The reason has to do with the importance of temperament in the assessment of voters. “In the general [election], there is a fine line between strong temperament and risky temperament,” he wrote in an

That points to the major challenges facing Christie: Can he tame his volatile personality? Will his zest for combat betray him in the future? Can he retain the forcefulness and bluntness that have made him attractive to voters in New Jersey and to many in his party nationally, while reassuring them that he is not a bully with a yen for political retribution? His performance Thursday, however well judged, did not provide a definitive answer.

“The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be, Freemen, or Slaves.” G Washington July 2, 1776

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