The thousand-page document dump released Friday on Chris Christie’s political bridge-closing scandal revealed just which journalists began knocking on the Port Authority’s door the week of the “traffic study.”
The first to cover it, John Cichowski, found an angry, perplexed Fort Lee Mayor asking himself what he had done to deserve retribution.
Cichowski, who writes the “Road Warrior” column for NorthJersey.com/The Bergen Record, appears in the email bundle presented to the New Jersey Legislature for their hearing on the matter on September 12, the Thursday of the week in which the lane closings began. “We told the reporter that PAPD has been in contact with Fort Lee PD throughout the transition,” the email notes – which was later shown by other emails to be false. The article that arose from that request for information is also remarked on as problematic in later interpersonal email exchanges, and it highlights a number of issues that, in retrospect, seem to bear repeating with the information we have today.
Cichowski notes that the traffic is so abominable that some stuck in it are comparing it to the mass traffic jams following September 11, 2001, as New Yorkers desperately tried to flee. He also notes – as does the Fort Lee Police Chief – that the week of September 9, 2013 was the first week of school, a very specific time of the year for traffic to increase at a certain time of morning as parents resume their autumn routines with the kids. He also clearly details emergency response incidents hampered by the traffic, incidents that are now famous because of their potential to put blood on the hands of those orchestrating the mess.
Then there is Mark Sokolich, whom Cichowski describes as “even more perplexed” than the police chief as to why this was happening to their city the entire week. The mayor tells Cichowski that he has no answers, was not told, and fears that he may have angered someone in power.
“I thought we had a good relationship. Now I’m beginning to wonder if there’s something I did wrong. Am I being sent some sort of message?” Sokolich tells the Record.
Cichowski’s article is also the first to note that there is a possibility Governor Christie is punishing Sokolich with this mess for not endorsing him, or “pushing through a $500 million, 47-story high-rise housing development near the bridge, or for failing to support the Port’s last toll hike.” Sokolich, who comes off as somewhat nervous for his political future in the article, asks Cichoski to “please print this,” and later waxes poetic about the positive relationship his town has with the Port Authority. The dread coming out of the article makes more sense now that the letter Sokolich sent to the Port Authority has been disclosed, which says that Sokolich knew of Port Authority officials telling residents that the traffic problems were his fault.
The article caused Congressman Bill Pascrell to immediately send a letter to the Port Authority asking for an explanation, one that later documents in the file show that Executive Director of the Port Authority Patrick Foye never received. The article also prompted the Wall Street Journal‘s Ted Mann to ask questions of the Port Authority, which Christie aide David Wildstein called “bullshit” in one of the newly disclosed emails. In Mann’s article, a Christie spokesperson denies that Christie sought endorsements from Democrats at all: “We don’t approach these folks and say, ‘You will endorse us.’ These are folks who have supported us.”
The recurring and arguably most universal talking point to come out of the Chris Christie press conference this week was that the two-hour stunt will only have been a success if Christie did not lie; if viewers were not later told that his sincere sadness was yet another act to cover up more political mischief. Christie told viewers that day that he was “happy to admit that I was trying to run up the score” in the campaign by actively soliciting endorsements.
Being the first kernel of investigation to come out of that dreadful week in September, Cichowski’s article forces us to revisit many of the assumptions that allow for trusting Christie on the matter and for believing that anyone in the administration thought Sokolich important enough for this level of retribution. It further discredits the possibility that Rachel Maddow introduced of this being a matter linked to a dispute on Supreme Court nominees.
However, it clarifies the exactitude of the plans to create this chaos: a traffic jam on the first week of school on the busiest bridge in the country.