Over the weekend, a former New Jersey-based journalist named Brian Murphy appeared on Up with Steve Kornacki and postulated a reason why the Chris Christie administration orchestrated a conspiracy to close toll lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge, causing a massive four-day traffic jam.
It might be the best theory so far. Murphy, who, like Kornacki, once unknowingly worked for David Wildstein, theorized that the lane closures were intended to stymie a multi-billion dollar land development deal, known as "Hudson Lights," that Fort Lee Mayor Mike Sokolich was busily closing back in August. The land in question is located within spitting distance of the toll for the GWB. If the toll lanes were closed permanently, the traffic nightmare would jeopardize the deal.
More than any other theory, this is a solid and direct way for the Christie cronies to screw with Sokolich. Kill the Fort Lee development deal by deliberately making the existing infrastructure unacceptable. Clever. And dastardly, given the unprecedented traffic jam at an already traffic-heavy toll.
Meanwhile, other New Jersey mayors have stepped forward with their own stories about alleged Christie administration retribution. Via WNYC:
--The mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer, was asked to endorse Christie, and when she refused, a Hurricane Sandy relief state grant the city had applied for to the tune of $100 million was approved -- for a sum total of $300,000. Not nearly enough for the city, which had been 80 percent submerged during the flood.
--The Christie administration also might've retaliated against Mayor Chris Bollwage of Elizabeth, New Jersey when legislators there opposed several Christie proposals in Trenton. Shortly thereafter, the only DMV in Elizabeth, the fourth largest city in the state, was closed. (You might recognize Elizabeth as the setting for The Sopranos.)
What's most striking and eerily consistent about all of these stories is, to me, the centerpiece of the entire scandal. Specifically, it's the ugly, emotionless way in which the Christie administration has deliberately hurt average, innocent New Jersey residents in its effort to exact its petty Neo-Cosa-Nostra vengeance.
As we follow the increasingly harrowing details of the scandal, it's important to maintain an acute focus on this critical aspect of the story: the collateral damage, the civilian casualties. Christie's staffers are clearly without conscience when it comes to harming noncombatants who have nothing to do with the political shovel-fights in New Jersey.
Political payback is begrudgingly acceptable if it's targeted directly at enemies. If Christie really, really wanted to nail Mayor Sokolich, he could've started a whisper campaign or a push-poll or any number of "rat-fucking" style forms of retaliation. (See also Karl Rove planting a listening device in his office then blaming it on an opponent, or Nixon operative Donald Segretti stealing letterhead from Edmund Muskie and issuing crazy statements about Democratic opponents.)
But when you screw with hurricane relief funds or create massive traffic jams, you're not attacking political opponents, you're attacking the people you're supposed to be, you know, helping.
This is an all-too-familiar tactic we've witnessed from the Republican side of the aisle for some time now. The GOP leadership desperately wants President Obama's policies and presidency to fail -- they've admitted as much -- so what do they do? They aim for civilian populations. They shut down the government. Or they deal in brinksmanship with the debt limit. Or they try to repeal our healthcare. Or they sabotage job growth and the economic recovery, while focusing on a massive national debt which the Bush administration and Republican Congress almost single-handedly created. Or, in an effort to oust the president at the ballot box, they attempt to disenfranchise a growing minority electorate with Jim Crow style Voter ID laws.
In New Jersey, it's interminable traffic jams and other cruel shenanigans in which the Christie machine has taken civilian hostages as a means of getting back at a Fort Lee enemy -- or an Elizabeth enemy, or a Hoboken enemy, or a Jersey City enemy. The Christie people have unflinchingly manufactured a public safety hazard for some, and a massive job-risking, stress-inducing headache for thousands more. And for this, appropriate legal action can't come quickly enough for the entire cabal.