Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Christie Bullied a Local (and World) Hero

When Olympic medalist Carl Lewis announced that he was going to run for the State Senate back in 2011, a sense of pride permeated his hometown of Willingboro. Even though Lewis was living and running in the eighth district at the time (Willingboro is in the seventh), Lewis' roots in South Jersey were legendary. He established the Carl Lewis Foundation, coached track for youngsters in Willingboro and was involved in physical fitness advocacy throughout South Jersey.
Today, it was reported that when Lewis decided to run for the State Senate against Dawn Marie Addiego (who was originally appointed to the seat to fill a vacancy), Chris Christie threatened to withdraw support for a statewide physical fitness program in which Lewis was involved. You've got to give Christie credit - strong-arming a nine-time Olympic gold medal winner.

There was another problem, though. Even though Lewis owned homes in the seventh and eighth districts and held a New Jersey driver's license, he had voted in California in 2009 and after a protracted court battle he was declared ineligible to run for the senate seat. New Jersey's residency requirements are somewhat ambiguous, and the courts ruled in the GOP's favor. Addiego subsequently ran unopposed, and was re-elected in 2013 when the Democrats stood up an unspectacular conservative candidate not much different than the incumbent. There was some talk about running Lewis for Congress against Jon Runyan in 2012, but at the time, Lewis said, "there is zero chance I'm running for Congress."

District 8 is a Republican district, and Lewis would by no means have been a shoo-in. But the fact that Christie tried to bully him out of running and undoubtedly urged the GOP to pursue the lawsuit is another example of the behavior of the governor that is being exposed by BridgeGate, and the Hoboken Sandy relief effort.

This week, I spoke with Chris Walker, former Executive Director of the Carl Lewis Foundation and currently a Willingboro councilman. Walker emphasized that these revelations, although interesting in the context of Christie's travails, are not new, and that the threat to withhold support from Lewis' programs was reported in the press back in 2011. Walker went on to tell me that this is just another example in the pattern of Christie's behavior, and that he felt that the current investigations into that behavior are justified.

Lewis is now living in Houston, working as a volunteer track coach at his alma mater, the University of Houston, and serving on several Boards of Directors for local agencies there.

New Jersey's loss is Texas's gain. One has to wonder how much of this is due to Christie and the GOP.

Photo: Carl Lewis at his announcement to run for NJ Senate in April 2011. Senate President Steve Sweeney is at the right of the photo and Chris Walker is between Lewis and Sweeney.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bridgegate is Not as Important as You Think

When the history of the Christie reign is written, Bridgegate will be an interesting, but unmemorable chapter.

That's not to say that this scandal is unimportant today, but the long-term effect of the ersatz "traffic study" will pale in comparison to many of Christie's other blunders.

What will be the overall effect of Bridgegate?

Maybe a 91 year-old woman died because of the delay in emergency response services due to Christie's traffic jams, but that's uncertain. But how many anonymous people have died and will die due to Christie's callous disregard of the availability of health care to poor and middle-class New Jerseyans?

Thousands of kids were late for school because their busses couldn't navigate through the unnecessary traffic. But millions of school kids will suffer due to Christie's negligence of public education, his vilification of schoolteachers, and his promotion of education profiteers.

Air quality in Fort Lee and surrounding areas suffered because cars and trucks were sitting idly, spewing out carbon monoxide and other toxic gasses. But that pales in comparison to the destructive impact of Christie's unilateral pull out from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Christie will not be impeached, nor will he resign over this matter - even if it is proven that he had prior knowledge (of which I have no doubt.) Maybe Bridgegate will scuttle his presidential ambitions, but his party wouldn't have nominated him anyway. He's just too sane and rational to rise to the top of the pile of cacophonous clowns that have hijacked the Party of Lincoln. The more important (and scary) fact is that New Jersey is stuck with his out-of-touch agenda for the next four years.

So let the investigation continue. It is important that the public know all of the facts. More of Christie's underlings will be punished, as they should be. But the man at the top will escape with, at worst, a slap on the wrist. Getting rid of Wildstein and Kelly needed to happen, but there are more than enough Christie cronies out there to fill those positions.

Hopefully when this is over, when Christie's luster is tarnished, the mainstream media will focus on the real harm that Christie's actions have done to our state, and on the problems he will exacerbate in the next four years.

Oh, and finally, a message to those Democratic mayors who supported Christie’s re-election. Good luck in collecting what was promised to you.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Something is Rotten in Drumthwacket

Conventional wisdom has it that the closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge was done by Christie loyalists, most likely with a wink and a nod from the Governor, in order to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich (or to punish Senator Loretta Weinberg, if you buy into the Rachel Maddow theory.)

The problem is that this hypothesis makes no sense. If Christie wanted to punish Sokolich and the people of Fort Lee for supporting Barbara Buono, there would be subtler and more effective ways of doing so.

Does anyone really believe that a tie-up at the bridge and subsequent jams in the streets of Fort Lee would be immediately pinned on the mayor? Were there any editorials in the local papers on the day of the traffic jam excoriating Sokolich? Are Christie’s minions so incompetent that they think a traffic jam in North Jersey would point back to Sokolich or Weinberg?

If Christie wanted to punish Sokolich, there are other, more direct ways to do so. His biggest club would be the fiscal one. Reducing state aid to a municipality or school district that he doesn’t like is Christie’s modus operandi. The state’s eminent domain power could be invoked to place undesirable things like high-voltage power lines or sewage treatment plants in the town. Another way that Christie could punish Fort Lee residents is to perpetuate traffic jams by cancelling the ARC tunnel. (Oh wait! He already did that.)

NJ Governor's Mansion
There’s got to be more to this story than a short-lived traffic jam. Ideally, an independent special prosecutor should be brought in. Speaker-elect Prieto has indicated that he is amenable to extending the subpoena power of Assemblyman Wisniewski’s Transportation Committee. The Governor and his direct reports (Counsel Charles McKenna and Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd) must testify under oath about what they knew and when they knew it. Same for Christie’s mouthpiece, Michael Drewniak. Port Authority Chairman David Samson must testify under oath as to what orders he received from Trenton and what actions he took unilaterally. Until that happens, the stench of lies and obfuscation will permeate Christie’s second term.

For now, the idea that Christie is taking political retribution on a mayor by creating a traffic jam makes as little sense as the “traffic study” explanation that was perpetrated by Mr. Wildstein.