New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has found himself in a volatile political situation as the blame for what appears to be a politically motivated traffic disaster tears at his credibility. Standing beside him, however, is one Republican Christie himself tried to destroy: NJ Senate Republican Leader Thomas Kean, Jr., son of Christie’s former mentor.
The New Jersey governor is under fire on two fronts of potential corrupt behavior. One is the explosive story of how senior staffers in his office appeared to have planned a massive traffic jam, for political retribution, on the country’s most trafficked bridge. (Speculation remains as to both who the target of the retribution was and what the motive was.) The other is the potential misuse of funds that could have been used to help victims of Hurricane Sandy but were instead used for an expensive contract with a marketing firm that made ads promoting Christie and his family.
His former mentor, former New Jersey Republican Governor Tom Kean, Sr., has not minced words when giving his opinion of the current mess. Calling the culture that Christie has cultivated in his office “dangerous,” Kean, Sr. told the Washington Post that, while he sees Christie as “the most able politician since Bill Clinton,” voters should question whether they want a president with Christie’s qualities. He also questioned how “that atmosphere was allowed to exist” in Christie’s office, though he noted that, as his aide, Christie “never lied to me.”
The backhanded compliment was seen by many observers as another sign of the growing rift between Christie and Kean, Sr., long after Christie worked on Kean’s campaign. The initial rift began last November, when Christie attempted to help appoint state Sen. Kevin O’Toole as Senate Minority leader, which would have seen Kean’s son, Tom Kean, Jr., out of a job. In what The Star-Ledger called “an unprecedented move,” Christie’s power grab failed, but it left Kean, Sr. speechless.
State Senator Tom Kean, Jr., however, has not been as critical of Christie as his father, despite Christie endangering his legislative leadership. In fact, Kean, Jr. is on record being complimentary to Christie, praising his handling of the political crisis. Speaking to The Star-Ledger, Kean, Jr. made his only statement so far on the matter, complimenting Christie for handling the situation “swiftly and professionally” and for directly visiting Fort Lee after the press conference in which he apologized for the incident.
Kean, Jr.’s support of Christie, short though the statement may be, is loud and very significant in the mire of silence that has come from many national and state-level Republicans. That Christie’s loudest support in this mess has come from Democrat Senate President Stephen Sweeney was a surprise to many and a confirmation that Christie’s relationship with conservatives is tenuous at best. Kean, Jr. refused to attack Christie when he was down, however, and has otherwise bowed out of the debate, while his father has been more vocal in attacking the man who tried to destroy his son’s political career.