It’s always the cover up that gets these guys

The single sin that can knock a politician right out of the game is arrogance. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had it made in the shade. He had a very good chance of becoming the president of the United States. His voters loved him. He showed humility. Like so many of the rest of us, he was battling obesity. Against the backdrop of Hurricane Sandy, he gave the American people what they wanted — a politician who put the people first and politics way behind. He was sharply criticized by fellow Republicans for daring to hug Barack Obama, an act of political perfidy. But if the Republicans were to win the presidency, they would have to find a candidate who could appeal to the center and Christie was the man who could do it. The middle range (purple) voters loved the big man and Democrats deserted their party in huge numbers to vote for him. Yes, he would have had to run against Hillary Clinton, but the polls seemed to have them neck and neck in the race. The same polls showed that the other Republican right wing candidates couldn’t win.

Now arrogance has reared its ugly head and Team Christie got stupid, very stupid. They decided to punish Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, and his constituents by tying up traffic for up to four hours at a time, supposedly to get even with the mayor for his lack of political compliance. Apparently his sin was that the Democratic mayor wouldn’t endorse Christie. Even that seems nuts in retrospect since it is unclear that the Fort Lee guy was even approached about the endorsements.

Things went further south when two of Christie’s top people quit the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where the New Jersey governor gets to appoint the chairman. For most of us, that was the tipoff that the rumors about the get-even scheme were true. Are you kidding? Two of your top people quit their prestigious jobs and you don’t ask why? When Christie went before the microphones and said that he knew nothing, his words rang hollow. Now he’ll be investigated forever by the New Jersey Assembly as well as the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. If it turns out that he knew about the plan, he’s a fried fish. As we all know, it’s always the cover up that gets these guys.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is going full throttle because the mess that was caused on the Fort Lee side in New Jersey had major consequences on the New York side. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who always sees his opportunities and takes them, will seek changes in the power sharing arrangements in the running of the Port Authority. Cuomo made it clear in his recent State of the State message that New York should be running things at La Guardia Airport and JFK. Trust me on this, when Andrew gets a chance to take on someone like Christie with few consequences and much to gain, he will not let up on his choke hold.

There is a long time between now and the 2016 presidential election. Some people will forget this whole thing and trivialize it. But try to remember that after Dick Nixon lost to Pat Brown in the California gubernatorial election so long ago, he famously intoned the immortal words, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Of course, he went on to become president of the United States before he had to resign in disgrace. If one of his fired or resigned aides doesn’t throw Christie under the bus, he might have a chance at political resurrection. But if that same aide were to make a deal with a prosecutor for no jail time in return for implicating Christie, and if he really did know about the payback scheme, it is all over.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 1/21/14

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