Seeing the admitted mastermind of the Bridgegate scandal get off with probation might have been easier to swallow if the architect of the bullying culture that spawned the sophomoric plot received some punishment. But Gov. Christie skated free as well.
David Wildstein, who described his job at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as being Christie’s enforcer, was sentenced last week to three years of probation for planning the mysterious lane closings four years ago on the George Washington Bridge. Children were stuck in school buses and lives endangered with emergency vehicles snarled in traffic.
Wildstein escaped with a wrist slap, instead of a maximum sentence of 27 months in prison, because his testimony led to the convictions of Bridget Anne Kelly, who had been a top aide to Christie, and Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority.
Wildstein’s cooperation may have aided federal prosecutors get two convictions, but it doesn’t sit well to see him get away with plotting the scheme to punish a New Jersey mayor who refused to endorse Christie’s presidential campaign. Wildstein also must do 500 hours of community service and pay $20,000 in fines and restitution.
Wildstein said Christie was aware of the plan to snarl traffic. He said he and Baroni told Christie what was happening and the governor laughed. Christie denied that and disputed Wildstein’s assertion that they were high school friends. But it’s hard to believe Wildstein would launch the political dirty trick without the governor’s knowledge.
Christie appointed Wildstein to his $150,000-a-year job at the Port Authority. The job had no job description. Wildstein said all he wanted to do was serve the “one constituent” that mattered. He said the Christie administration was obsessed with power and revenge, which was what Bridgegate was all about.
Even if Christie was not aware of the scheme, the fact that Wildstein felt emboldened to orchestrate such an abuse of power illustrates the culture emanating from the governor’s office. Christie’s tenure will be remembered for his listing enemies and verbally abusing critics.
Christie got into a shouting match with a Rutgers law student at a town hall meeting, calling him an “idiot.” At a press conference marking the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Christie told a former Asbury Park councilman to “sit down and shut up.”
Christie’s staff uploaded video of the exchanges on YouTube, as if the arrogant displays showed his leadership. Being a bully is not governing. Christie’s historically low poll numbers show New Jerseyans are tired of him. It didn’t help to see photos of him relaxing on a state beach closed to regular citizens. Too bad stronger ties to Bridgegate couldn’t be made to hasten his departure from office.