Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Class Sues Gov. Christie as|Traffic Retribution Case Explodes

TRENTON, N.J. (CN) - Six residents of Fort Lee, N.J., filed a class action Thursday against Gov. Chris Christie and the three aides who were fired or quit after causing four days of massive traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge, as political retribution for a mayor who refused to endorse Christie.

As revealed in emails that made national news Wednesday, Christie's top aides caused all but one entry lane to the bridge at Fort Lee to be closed for four days - from Sept. 9 through 13 - after Fort Lee's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, refused to endorse Christie for re-election last year. The enormous traffic jams delayed emergency vehicles, kept children from school, made people late for work and made life miserable for people in the town of 36,000, across the Hudson River from New York City.

Lead plaintiff Zachary Galicki sued the state, Christie, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (which runs the bridge), and three of Christie's top staffers:

deputy chief of state Bridget Anne Kelly, whom Christie fired Thursday, saying she had lied to him;

David Wildstein, a Port Authority official and longtime friend of Christie, who was appointed to his job by Christie. He resigned in December after the scandal became public and was held in contempt Thursday by the New Jersey Legislature after refusing to testify about the scandal;

and Bill Baroni, deputy director of the Port Authority, who also resigned in December.

The emails, released in response to a FOIA request from The Associated Press, show Christie's aides reveling in the headache: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote; "Is it wrong that I am smiling?" Baroni wrote after Mayor Sokolich contacted him about the enormous traffic jam; and, referring to Christie's Democratic opponent in the upcoming election, and to Mayor Sokolich's complaint that they would be late to school, Wildstein wrote: "These are the children of Buono voters."

According to the emails, published first in the Bergen Record on Wednesday, Wildstein also wrote that an official at the Port Authority was "helping us to retaliate."

In one email, referring to Mayor Sokolich, Wildstein wrote: "It will be a tough November for this little Serbian," a remark Sokolich, who is of Croatian heritage, said he found "condescending, offensive, insulting and slanderous."

In their federal lawsuit, the six named plaintiffs claim the traffic jams made them late for work, deprived them of liberty and property, and cost them wages in docked pay.

They seek damages and punitive damages for constitutional violations including denial of due process and equal protection, "willful, wanton, arbitrary and egregious official misconduct," abuse of authority, and unconstitutional denial of the right to travel.

They are represented by Rosemarie Arnold, of Fort Lee.

Newspapers were full of speculation Thursday about the impact the scandal will have on Christie's chances for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, and in the race itself if he is nominated. He has been admired as a straight shooter by members of both parties, but also regarded as a bully. In a two-hour press conference Thursday, in which he announced Kelly's firing, Christie said, "I'm not a bully," a statement, perhaps, with long-ago reverberations of a similar statement President Nixon made as the Watergate crisis began.

The brazen stupidity of the messages also brings to mind Lt. Col. Oliver North's failure to understand, before the Iran-Contra scandal became public knowledge, that emails do not disappear just because they are deleted.

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