What we have learned from the Bridgegate trial so far:
The Port Authority, established in 1921 to promote transportation and trade in New York harbor, has become an $8 billion a year patronage mill for the governors of New York and New Jersey. A good example, the PA’s “bank funds” were used to help Essex County Democrat Joseph DiVincenzo win re-election with money for the parks he promotes.
David Wildstein, as expected, testified in federal court Tuesday that Gov. Chris Christie knew about and, at least, condoned the disruption of traffic across the George Washington Bridge for four days in September, 2013, to punish the mayor of Fort Lee who refused to endorse Christie for re-election. And, as expected, Christie repeated his denials. Now the question is will Wildstein’s tale survive what is expected to be a withering cross-examination by lawyers representing the two defendants in the trial, Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly.
What a guy, that David Wildstein. A helluva guy. Why, he had the power to shut down entrance lanes to the George Washington Bridge in a way that would not only create a massive traffic jam for thousands but also would have increased the dangers of motor vehicle sideswipes and collisions at the entrance of the nation’s busiest interstate crossing.
Today was the day of lies at the Bridgegate trial.
Lies told—maybe—out of fear or to cover other lies. Lies told and lies condoned by public officials who apparently viewed their responsibility to tell the truth as optional, not required. Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, admitted he lied when he wrote a statement that Gov. Chris Christie hadn’t shaken him down for an endorsement. Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, admitted he “didn’t mind” that two underlings put out a false statement claiming access to the George Washington Bridge was shut down because of a traffic study.
Political corruption trials—even those with high-profile defendants—rarely produce genuine surprises. But the opening day of the Bridgegate trial generated at least a half-dozen shockers, some of which may change both the political landscape and similar trials in New Jersey for a long time to come. Here’s my list of the big six biggest surprises unleashed in federal district court in Newark Monday:
The other day a friend told me that a mutual acquaintance, a private school teacher, had fallen seriously ill. The teacher’s friends and colleagues, he said, were raising money for her through GoFundMe, the online site for charitable giving, because the expenses she faced were almost as daunting as her illness. A few days later, I learned the Newark Teachers Union (NTU), an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, also had opened a GoFundMe site to raise money for itself and members. It too, apparently, faces a daunting fate.
There was a time–just a year ago–when the way a parent activist like Sharon Smith was treated at Tuesday night’s Newark school board would have caused a storm of protest. But that was before the city’s mayor, Ras Baraka, cut a deal with the governor to allow a national advocate of privately-operated charter schools to become the city’s state-appointed school superintendent. Now Smith–and many others–have been silenced through the charms and lies of one man, Christopher Cerf. Silenced and marginalized.
Christopher Cerf, Gov. Chris Christie’s man in Newark, apparently thinks the city residents are stupid and do not deserve to know how or why or by whom his chief aide, De’Shawn Wright, is paid. That really is all anyone needs to know about why Cerf should not be the schools chief in New Jersey’s largest city–but, apparently, Cerf’s contempt for the city residents is just fine for most school board members and his ally, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.