Bridgegate trial defendant Bill Baroni’s efforts to portray himself as an honest, compassionate and politically independent–if, at times, conflicted– public servant vanished in a mist of embarrassment Tuesday as a federal prosecutor shredded Baroni’s self-serving version of the decision to create massive traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge in September, 2013. And gone, too, is any doubt over whether Gov. Chris Christie was involved in whatever his lemmings were doing at the bistate agency.
Bill Baroni, literally fighting for his freedom and trying to save his future, set himself an all but impossible task in federal court: Trying to portray himself as just an honest bureaucrat innocently working in an atmosphere of corruption and cronyism and deception that, under Gov. Chris Christie, had turned the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey into a political brothel. The words he repeated again and again to assert his innocence–“David Wildstein said it and I believed him”–simply won’t provide him with the cover, or redemption, he seeks.
Bill Baroni, a defendant in the Bridgegate trial, will testify Monday and, boy, he’d better be good because, so far, his case is depending on people like Marilyn Graber who wanted the jury to know she has three “fabulous” grandchildren and lost 135 pounds at a weight loss clinic at Duke University where she met the nicest man 21 years ago. And his name was Bill Baroni.
New Jersey, despite the sentiments of many residents and the producers of television shows and authors of books with catchy titles, is no more politically corrupt than any other big urban state. It has, however, in the last few decades become the center of a new political phenomenon: Political pornography. And, in this less graphic version of “Boogie Nights,” the Jack Horner character, the producer—Burt Reynolds—is, of course, Chris Christie, the punk who became governor.
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.
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 children, parents, and residents of Newark have been scammed again.
The 25-year history of state control of local school districts is a narrative of an unworkable and poorly planned idea that, while initially promoted with good intentions, has been transformed into a deliberate effort to suppress both the voting rights of minority men and women and the employment rights of public employees with the intent of helping the political and personal fortunes of the most powerful white men in the state, including Gov. Chris Christie, heir apparent Steve Sweeney, and political boss George Norcross III and members of his family.
What is going on in Newark?
On Tuesday, the city’s mayor, Ras Baraka, blasted Gov. Chris Christie for an impending 6 percent local property tax increase because of what he said was poor management of the state-operated school system, a criticism that provoked an angry response from Christie. Yet, just a day later, on Wednesday, the school board adopted the state regime’s $1 billion budget with the big tax increase potentially still there, because, said its newly elected president, Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, Baraka would come up with $9.6 million to fill the budget hole–and ultimately prevent the tax increase.