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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is no-nonsense, larger than life, domineering, sometimes sarcastic — but above all unconventional. As his recent re-election showed, many voters love him for this, which has made him into a potential Republican candidate for president.
This shiny image has now been scuffed up as if he were a new automobile suddenly brought to grief by a pothole in the road — which in a sense is what happened.
A closure of traffic lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge at Fort Lee, N.J., in September caused a four-day traffic jam that was motorists’ worst nightmare — and last week it became the governor’s.
It was a scandal not to be denied, although at first Mr. Christie, with characteristic disdain, did just that. Then emails between aides surfaced, among them this: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, Mr. Christie’s deputy chief of staff, wrote to the governor’s friend, David Wildstein, whom he had appointed to a position at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. He replied: “Got it.”
Others emails showed some aides were delighted that ordinary people had been made to suffer, and all apparently for an extraordinarily petty reason: to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for refusing to endorse the governor for re-election.
The email exchanges were not only corrupt and callous, but also incredibly stupid. How long — and how many scandals — will it take before government officials understand that digital communications are not ensconced?
Mr. Christie maintains that staff members took this action without approval from him. To his credit, he has disciplined his aides, among them Ms. Kelly, whom he fired. Mr. Wildstein resigned last month. And at Trenton and Fort Lee last week, he offered groveling apologies and did not shy away from questions.
And if that weren’t enough, Mr. Christie is also coming under investigation for using relief funds, in the wake of superstorm Sandy, on television ads to promote tourism.
It was announced Monday that the Housing and Urban Development’s Office of the Inspector General will conduct a full audit of how New Jersey spent the money.
Last week, even before the latest scandal, it was a different Chris Christie at those podiums, confidence shaken, arrogance gone. Whether the embrace of humility is enough to impress future voters is anyone’s guess, especially with Democrats in full cry and a U.S. attorney looking into charges of criminality.
While his political fortunes may recover, Mr. Christie’s will need more than a new paint job on his image after this bump in the road. This offense is worse than most, because everyone who has ever waited in a traffic jam understands the anger. The “my way or the highway” attitude suddenly doesn’t sound so great.