New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s press conference on Thursday, called to deal with revelations that members of his staff ordered lane closures on the George Washington Bridge last year to punish the Democrat mayor of Fort Lee for failing to endorse Christie’s re-election, lasted nearly two hours as the governor apologized for the conduct of his administration, taking responsibility for behavior of which, he said, he had been unaware.
It was about as good a job as any elected leader could have done under similar circumstances, and far better than others, notably President Barack Obama, has done in responding to scandals of their own. Christie said that he had fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly, and that he would be cooperating with investigations into the widening scandal, which resulted in heavy, disruptive traffic delays in Fort Lee for several days last fall.
Christie also announced at the press conference that he had told former campaign manager Bill Stepien, who was implicated in the scandal, to withdraw his candidacy to lead the New Jersey Republican Party.
The bad: Christie could not explain how his trusted staff had thought such misconduct would be acceptable, and labored hard to assure the public it had not been representative of his administration as a whole.
The ugly: in explaining his own feelings of disappointment and betrayal, Christie described his governing team as a “family” and an “inner circle.” The idea that the governor’s office should have a clannish ethic of loyalty, rather than a culture of professionalism, reveals much about Christie’s governing style, and may have been why his staff thought they could do what they allegedly did. It is not yet clear Christie understands that.