They were the eight words that turned New Jersey politics — and the 2016 Republican presidential primary — upside down.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
As the assemblyman representing Fort Lee, I’ll never forget the shock, confusion and ultimately anger I felt when The Record first published those words from Gov. Chris Christie’s senior aide Bridget Kelly in a bombshell story one year ago today. That moment, in January 2014, was when the eyes of the nation were opened to what I had known for four years under Christie: The Christie administration operates in an environment of fear and intimidation.
In Christie’s world, it’s his way or the highway. We had all seen the videos of him shouting down hard-working New Jersey teachers and servicemen. But one year ago, the world witnessed the governing consequences of this bullying attitude: disruption of public roadways, threats to public safety, total and intentional chaos.
This was the kind of behavior we all fear from our government. It’s the plainest example we have seen in some time of government using its power to hurt the well-being of the citizens it’s supposed to represent. It was offensive, dangerous, and it made us ask one simple question:
What if these people were in the White House?
Now — one year later — Christie is doing all he can to make that a reality, criss-crossing the country gathering chits for his seemingly inevitable presidential run. He’s hugging Jerry Jones at Cowboys games in Texas. He’s going to Iowa, South Carolina, Ohio and Florida to applaud Republican governors as they take office.
As always, he’s putting himself above solving the many, many problems facing New Jersey.
Not only does the governor and his administration have miles to go to regain the public’s trust while they remain under federal and state investigation, but our state is in the midst of an economic and fiscal crisis.
While New Jersey’s property taxes are the highest in the nation, we maintain one of the worst foreclosure rates. Under Christie, our state credit rating has been downgraded a record eight times, and our state has consistently ranked at or near last in the nation for job creation. We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the region, and our budget remains in a perpetual state of disarray — with the governor giving massive tax breaks to corporations while breaking his promise to properly fund the pension system that provides a secure retirement to hard working New Jerseyans.
But as all these problems pile up, Christie is missing in action.
We have heard no solutions, no answers and no permanent fixes from the governor. Instead, he’s taken his show on the road — and taken that same attitude of bullying, intimidation and abrasive swagger with him.
One year after we read those emails for the first time, the same frightening question still looms large: What if these people were in the White House?
For the sake of our nation’s economy, its fiscal health and the integrity of its government, I hope we never have to face that reality. But with Christie’s poor record, failure to produce results and characteristic belligerence dragging down his ambition, I’m more hopeful than ever that we won’t.
Gordon Johnson, a Democrat, has served in the New Jersey Assembly representing Bergen County, N.J., which includes Fort Lee, since 2002.