Since becoming governor of the American state of New Jersey in late 2009, Chris Christie, a straight-talking former attorney from the city of Newark, had built a reputation as a pragmatic politician.
Christie has governed the state, which sits just across the river from New York City, as a moderate Republican with a strong focus on eschewing the national squabbles of Washington in favour of delivering balanced budgets and improving education.
However, the notion that Christie could transcend party politics — a perception cemented in late 2012 when he and U.S. President Barack Obama were pictured arm-in-arm touring the stricken Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy — recently came crashing down.
Newly released emails revealed that in August, a top Christie aide ordered the closure of two entrance lanes to the George Washington Bridge, the main traffic artery connecting the New Jersey borough of Fort Lee to New York City, because Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor didn’t endorse Christie’s reelection bid.
An email from Christie’s deputy chief of staff read, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” One of Christie’s top aides who worked at the agency that runs the bridge, replied, “Got it.”
The revelation led to the immediate dismissal of the deputy chief of staff, while providing the American political lexicon with a new shorthand for an act of revenge — “Bridgegate.” Christie has denied all knowledge of the affair and said he was“blindsided” by the emails. Investigations continue, with the possibility of more incriminating revelations in the coming weeks.
While the scandal has yet to make a dent in Christie’s favorability ratings, the long-term implications for the governor may be more profound. His popularity had given rise to talk of a run for the Republican presidential nomination ahead of the 2016 election. The real political fallout from “Bridgegate” might not be evident until it’s dredged up by Christie’s Republican rivals. And the main beneficiary of one of the more bizarre political episodes of recent years may turn out to be none other than the 2016 Democratic Party nominee.