New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he was unaware, but apparently staffers in his administration dished out some old-fashioned political punishment -- by playing with people's lives.
For the handful of people who might not know by now, until Wednesday Christie denied that his administration had any role in the sudden closure of two of the three lanes leading from Fort Lee, N.J. -- whose Democratic mayor did not endorse the governor in his reelection bid last year -- to the George Washington Bridge, which links Fort Lee to New York City. The four-day closure a few weeks before the election led to massive traffic problems for Fort Lee, whose officials were not notified and so were unprepared for the gridlock, which coincided with the first week of school.
There's only one problem for Christie: Emails show his administration apparently was involved. On Thursday, Christie apologized, fired a top aide but denied any knowledge of his administration's involvement in the closure.
From all the way out here in California, this unfolding scandal may be just a bit of amusing political theater, hearkening back to the days when political payback involved more than just exchanging nasty soundbites. My colleague Jon Healey said us much Wednesday: "If I lived in Fort Lee, I'd still be furious. From the safe distance of Southern California, though, some part of me nods in appreciation at the brazenness of it all."
Our readers -- including one from New Jersey, but the rest from Southern California -- were not at all amused. They noted that people suffered real problems: Children couldn't get to school, Fort Lee's emergency services were slowed and some unfortunates no doubt missed appointments. Fort Lee's mayor was punished all right -- the town's residents even more so.
Here are a few of our readers' letters.
Nanette Nuvolone of Manalapan, N.J., regrets Christie's reelection:
"First helpless animals, now kids trying to get to school: The list of the victims of Christie's political ambitions continues to grow.
"As a New Jerseyan, I was disgusted when he vetoed a bill that would have required pork factory farms to at least allow pigs to turn around. Now I'm outraged that his administration intentionally wreaked havoc on traffic when children were trying to get to the first day of school.
"New Jersey is full of smart people; how did we make the staggering blunder of reelecting this man?
Lancaster resident Ralph S. Brax is skeptical of Christie's professed ignorance:
"Christie had said for months that allegations of political punishment for Fort Lee's mayor were false. Now it turns out that one of Christie's deputy chiefs of staff sent an email to the highest-level appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, telling him it was 'time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.'
"The appointee responded, 'Got it.'
"Christie is now claiming he knew nothing, as if he were Sgt. Schultz in 'Hogan's Heroes.' The problem is that this entire affair fits Christie's MO -- that is, to punish those who cross him politically."
Frances Terrell Lippman of Sherman Oaks wonders what this means for Christie's presidential ambitions:
"After reading about the scandal involving Christie and the man-made debacle on the George Washington Bridge that potentially put lives at risk, I remembered the best line in the classic movie 'Casablanca.'
"In the movie, Capt. Renault stands in the middle of Rick's Café Américain (and secret casino) and says, 'I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here. As Renault is handed his winnings, he replies, 'Oh, thank you very much.'
"Is Christie that clueless, or is he just not in control of his own staff at the state level? How could he ever think he could become president of the United States?"