By Uche Onyebadi
NEW Jersey Governor Chris Christie does not see himself as a bully. But his burly physique and tough-talking mannerisms make you want to believe that he is. Now, he is fighting like a bull to clear his name in the on-going ‘bridge-gate’ scandal. If not handled with care, the scandal might scuttle Christie’s unstated but well-known ambition to run for the US presidency in 2016.
The bridge-gate affair appears to be a political pay-back plot gone bad; a case of political vendetta orchestrated by Governor Christie’s top aides. It all happened on September 9, last year when, without warning, one of the world’s busiest bridges that links News Jersey to Manhattan (New York) was shut down. The closure created unprecedented traffic chaos that took several days to contain.
As innocuous as this might sound, very few people knew that the closure of the George Washington Bridge had more to it than was apparent. It was only when a local newspaper blew open the lid that the entire country was thrown into political theater that stunned many. It emerged that closing the bridge was a form of political retribution against the Mayor of Fort Lee town, Mr. Mark Sokolich, who did not endorse Governor Christie during his re-election campaign last year.
But, how does closing a bridge matter? An excerpt from an e-mail message from Governor Christie’s now sacked top aide, Ms Bridget Anne Kelly, to David Wildstein who ran the Port Authority that controlled the bridge told it all. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” wrote Ms Kelly to David, who was appointed to his position by the embattled governor. And to that message David replied “Got you,” indicating that the closure was a pre-planned affair whose intention was to cause maximum traffic chaos in Fort Lee and make its mayor look stupid and incompetent and perhaps trigger calls for him to be removed from office!
The bridge-gate scandal may not have attracted so much attention but for the fact that Governor Christie is expected to be one of the front-runners in the 2016 US presidential election. Before the scandal, his approval rating was above sixty-five percent and he was seen as perhaps the most credible Republican Party opponent to Hillary Clinton, who is expected to win the Democratic Party’s ticket for the race to the White House.
Governor Christie has embarked on multiple efforts to clear his name in the bridge-gate affair. But, more potential scandals are popping up to make his political light dim further. The latest is anadvertisement that was used during his re-election campaign. It had the governor’s family portrait. The ad was funded with money received by his state to assist victims of Hurricane Sandy which ravaged parts of New Jersey and other states in 2012. The main issue is that the state of New Jersey rejected another bid to produce the advertisement. That bid was to have saved some $2 million and produced without the governor’s family portrait. Governor Christie’s critics are saying that the advertisement not only cost an extra $2 million which could have gone to the victims of the disaster, but was also used extensively during the governorship campaign period under the guise of wooing investors and tourists to return to New Jersey after the hurricane.
A number of pertinent issues arise from Governor Christie’s predicament. Prominent on the list is how potential presidential materials are scrutinized in the US. In this country, you cannot successfully run for public office even with what looks like skeletons in your cupboard.
Skeletons in the cupboard
One way or another, the media will catch up with you and that will be the end of your political ambition. Over here, the media are powerful agents especially in the political process. Public officers are really held accountable by the media. And, no public officer, from the president to the least powerful, can afford to ignore media scrutiny.
Another issue is what top aides to any leader can actually do on his/her behalf in the imagination that they are doing the leader great service. The Mayor of Fort Lee is not in the good books of the governor, so the governor’s aides concluded that one way to impress their boss is to cook up trouble for his political opponent. Just think about what might have been done, and continues to be done, in Nigeria by some overzealous officers in Aso Rock who believe their self-generated actions will please President GoodluckJonathan!
But, of greater importance is that for those aides to “act” on behalf of Governor Christie, the governor must have been conducting himself in a manner that made it possible for the aides to look into their political crystal ball and come up with what they thought might please their boss. Governor Christie is known to be a bully who shows little accommodation for those who hate his guts. A former governor of New Jersey one criticized him and Christie’s reaction was to order the withdrawal of the former governor’s official security guards. So, it does not really surprise anyone that Governor Christie’s aides can hatch a plot to cause traffic mayhem in Fort Lee.
Governor Christie’s troubles are not likely to be over anytime soon. In fact, I believe that his 2016 presidential ambition is dead or at least dying.