If it weren’t for the Presidential Election, the Bridgegate trial would be front page news around America. Even my fellow Garden Staters are not giving it the attention it deserves. Gov. Christie’s approval rating sits at 21%, an all time low for him. The ledger of Governor Christie’s disappointments, failures and scandals started long before Bridgegate – long before he became Governor in fact, and I’ve compiled a list of my choices for his worst moments below.
Gov. Christie’s Worst Hits
1) Christie falsely stated that his opponent was being investigated by the Morris County prosecutor’s office during his first campaign for Morris County Freeholder in 1994. Two years after he won the race, he was ordered by the court to apologize for the lies he told. His opponents won a defamation suit against him (the amount of money that Christie paid out was never disclosed). To learn more, click here.
2) Christie raised $350,000 for Bush in 2000 and was named the US Attorney for NJ as his reward. This was despite the fact the Christie had no experience as a prosecutor. Over the next several years, Christie made a name for himself going after corrupt Democrats (and some Republicans). But he went after corrupt politicians that were weak, while giving strong ones that might help him later a pass. To read more about it, click here.
3) Todd Christie, the Governor’s brother, was part of a trading firm that was accused of taking advantage of its own clients. Many of the traders were indicted, but Todd Christie was not. He settled with the SEC in 2008. There has been a great amount of speculation that Chris Christie made a deal to spare his brother. This was one of the major reasons that the Romney campaign decided to pass on Christie for VP in 2012. To learn more about Todd Christie, his financial problems, and his brother’s help, click here.
4) NJ has had budgetary problems long before Governor Christie took office (NJ is required by law to have a balanced budget, but lots of programs are underfunded) and state aid to counties and municipalities has been cut under his leadership. This has led to a series of budget crises on the local level. Governor Christie has spoken about the need to examine the contracts, benefits and pensions of public employees (teachers, cops, firemen and other state workers). While there is no doubt that difficult conversations need to take place with a responsible eye towards revenues and expenses, Governor Christie has often insulted and demonized public workers. He is not the first politician to do this, but that is not an excuse. Gov. Christie’s harshest words are for the public workers’ unions, and while it is easy to find things to criticize within those organizations, it damages the negotiations regarding salaries, benefits and pensions. And it contributes to a negative and nasty climate. Click here for Christie on the teachers’ unions and here for Christie on a police union.
5) Governor Christie has used bullying language, put downs and wishes for violence when he talks about other politicians, opponents and even a veteran. Christie asked the media to “take the bat out” on Loretta Weinberg, a 76 year old Democratic legislator. He called a veteran an “idiot” at a town hall meeting. Last year, NJ.com created a section on the site that has an extensive list of Christie insults.
6) Senator Frank Lautenberg died on June 3, 2013. Cory Booker decided to run to replace the departed Senator that fall. Gov. Christie held a special election a mere 20 days before the regular November 5th general election. It cost the state $24 million dollars. Governor Christie said the reason why he approved the special election was that he did not want to deprive the people of NJ a duly elected representative. Others claimed that despite vetoing other programs and elections based on costs, Christie wanted to keep Booker off of the Nov. 5 ballot in order to increase the margins of his anticipated Gubernatorial reelection. To read more about this, click here.
7) When he was a teenager, Chris Christie knocked on future Governor Tom Kean’s door in the 1970s and found a political mentor and friend that lasted until 2013. Their relationship soured when Gov. Christie attempted to unseat Tom Kean Jr. as the the State Senate Minority Leader by replacing him with someone who would rubber stamp all of his proposals. The move failed and Kean Jr. stayed in power. Gov. Kean viewed it as a huge betrayal. It’s a clear example of both the opportunism and lack of loyalty that make up Gov. Christie’s character. To learn more, click here.
8) The NJ State Ethics Commission is supposed to be a non-partisan, independent office that examines the actions of elected and appointed public officials to ensure integrity at all levels of NJ government. The last two executive directors were Christie appointees, which while not illegal, went against the nature of the commission (who typically appoint their own commissioner). His appointees were both people that were friendly to his office. This reeked of impropriety. One must read the lengthy article about this issue at NJ Spotlight.com.
9) NJ’s credit rating has been downgraded 9 times under Gov. Christie. Job growth in NJ has been much slower than other states in the region since the Great Recession.
10) ExxonMobil caused a great deal of environmental damage in NJ. The company was found liable at the end of the decade long trial. In February of 2015, Governor Christie announced a settlement of $225 million. NJ’s attorneys had been seeking $8.9 billion, and while they may not have won that award, one is hard pressed to find someone who thought the $225 million settlement made sense (it was 3 cents on the dollar). ExxonMobil did donate $50,000 to the super PAC that was supporting Gov. Christie’s presidential bid. It will be interesting to see if Christie or any of his family members get a job with ExxonMobil after he leaves office.
11) In 2010, Bennett Barlyn, Hunterdon County’s Assistant Prosecutor, brought a 43-count indictment against then Sherrif Deborah Trout, Undersheriff Michael Russo, and investigator John Falat. They were charged with official misconduct and falsifying documents. They were Christie people. Paula Dow, the Attorney General at the time, threw the indictment out. Barlyn complained to his superiors that it seemed politically motivated. Barylyn was fired. He filed a wrongful termination suit. After several years, he won. He was awarded $1.5 million. Christie didn’t pay for it. The NJ taxpayers did. Under terms of the settlement, details of the case can’t be released and Barlyn is not allowed to discuss it. In a vacuum, this is disturbing. When discussed as part of the overall portrait of Governor Christie, one must wonder at how many other times his office squashed cases against his allies and unfairly pursued those that defied or opposed him.
12) State officials and reporters have asked “why did NJ miss out on $300 million of Hurricane Sandy relief aid?” the last few years. In 2014, the Star Ledger reported that Christie used $6 million of Hurricane Sandy recovery dollars to build a senior center in Belleville, NJ. The problem is that Bellville did not suffer much damage due to the hurricane. Meanwhile, other towns that were devastated did not get the funds they were supposed to. The Federal Government has been investigating Gov. Christie since 2013 about a potential misuse of the relief funds NJ received.
13) He has been a major disappointment in the area of drug prevention, treatment and recovery services. He delayed the NJ Heroin and Opiate Task Force Report for almost 2 years, has not supported the NJ Recovery High School, did not immediately come out in favor of Senator Vitale’s 21 bills in the fall of 2014, did little as other states passed meaningful legislation in 2016, advocated giving marijuana to veterans with PTSD despite a lack of evidence that it helps, and failed to work on a number of suggestions while he spent two years campaigning for President.
14) His subordinates have been accused of shutting down the George Washington Bridge in September of 2013 because the Mayor of Fort Lee would not endorse him for Governor. David Simon brilliantly wrote about it when the story broke. Christie is not on trial (for now), but a number of his former subordinates are. Christie has denied knowing about this, and is letting them twist in the wind (again, the issue of loyalty surfaces). David Wildstein, a high school classmate of Christie’s whom he has since disavowed, said that he had a “one constituent rule,” which meant that his only job at the Port Authority was to make Gov. Christie happy. Christie’s people used the Port Authority as a political slush fund to reward those that supported him. The trial has been going on for over a month, and every day some new revelation emerges about impropriety and potential misconduct.
This list is incomplete. I’m sure people can think of a lot more examples of Gov. Christie’s disappointments, failures and scandals. As time goes on, more and more will be revealed. A friend of mine said that Gov. Christie and the Bridgewate trial is our generation’s Nixon and Watergate. I disagree. Despite some of his obvious character flaws, President Nixon opened the door to China, signed the Clean Air and Water Acts, and actually did a few good things when it came to drug policy. Gov. Christie can not point to similar achievements.