We saw two sides of Gov. Chris Christie at his fall-on-the-sword news conference today. One side was humble and contrite. The other side displayed the feistiness that made him a Republican Party star. And both sides were held together by Christie’s healthy sense of self.
“I’ve come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey,” Christie said visibly deflated at the podium in Trenton. “I apologize to the people of Fort Lee and I apologize to the members of the state legislature. I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team.” He went on to express regret for not taking seriously the story of the phantom traffic study that led to four days of gridlock on the Fort Lee side of the George Washington Bridge. And he said he was “heartbroken” that his trust was violated and that he was “disturbed by the tone and behavior and attitude of callous indifference that was displayed” in e-mails by some of his staff.
Christie announced that he fired Bridget Anne Kelly, who was his deputy chief of staff and the person who sent the now infamous e-mail, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” And the governor said he instructed Bill Stepien, his former campaign manager, to not put his name forth to lead the state Republican party. Christie also stripped him of a contract with the Republican Governors Association. Curiously, the governor said of David Wildstein, the former director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority who resigned at the outset of “Bridge-gate,” who reportedly has known Christie since high school, “David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school.” #Thunk
Christie’s prepared remarks were pitch perfect. He was humble and contrite. He also looked commanding and in control of his administration as he detailed the actions taken and will take to re-earn the trust of his state and salvage his national political standing. But during the Q&A, the humbleness and contrition fell away. The longer Christie spoke the feistier he became. The more he looked like he enjoyed the back-and-forth. The more he looked self-absorbed.
The entire spectacle revolved around how Christie felt. How he was deceived and lied to. How his trust was violated. How he was betrayed. How he was “humiliated.” How he had nothing to do with “Bridge-gate.” And he did this over and over again in a me-me-mea culpa that lasted an hour and a half.
What Christie failed to do over and over again was express horror over the four-day gridlock at the George Washington Bridge. He didn’t rage over the impact that had on the school children who couldn’t get to school. He didn’t thunder about the thousands of people who were late for work or who couldn’t get to work. And he didn’t throw himself on the mercy of the court of public opinion over the story of delayed response times of emergency medical services and the people hurt by it. The Bergen Record summed them up succinctly.
An unconscious 91-year-old woman who later died of cardiac arrest. A car accident with multiple injuries. A missing 4-year-old.
Christie is headed to Fort Lee to apologize to the people of that borough who were harmed by the lane closings. He said he wanted to apologize to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich who was disparaged by his now-former staff, but Sokolich told him to stay away. Given that traffic is a universal annoyance, Christie will have to do a whole lot more to make amends with Fort Lee and his state.
“Ultimately,” the governor said, “I am responsible for what happens under my watch.” Christie’s prepared remarks succeeded in calming things down politically for a moment. But just for a moment, as his Q&A showed.
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[Update, 2:05 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said that David Wildstein was instructed not to seek to lead the state Republican Party. Instead, it was Bill Stepien, the former campaign manager, who was so instructed. The post reflects this change.]