What is it about New Jersey and highways? They’ve inspired Bruce Springsteen (man, there’s an opera out on the Turnpike), and they provide a proud badge of identity for people who live in the state who can simply identify each other geographically and culturally with one question: What exit? But the Garden State’s turnpikes and parkways have been much less kind to its governors. In the 1990s, two of Gov. Jim Florio’s top aides were investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for supposedly steering turnpike bond business to favored underwriters. And former governor Jon Corzine was almost killed and almost killed others in an April 2007 crash in which state officials tried to hide the fact that the state trooper driving his SUV was doing 91 mph, forcing people to swerve out of the way, and that the governor was not wearing a seat belt.
And now, of course, we have Chris Christie’s highway bridge scandal. Today’s press conference was not convincing. As David Simon writes of Christie and the closure of lanes on the turnpike, “he knew.” He knew, Simon argues, because what self-respecting political operative would pull a dirty trick and not want to get the approval of the principal? The governor vehemently denied any knowledge of his aides’ actions, and like another famous New Jersey character, Tony Soprano, who dumped his disloyal aides in the Pine Barrens, the governor tried to bury one of his assistants today with the blame for his troubles. But now the U.S. attorney will investigate, and it will be interesting to learn over time what this aide has to tell him about her conversations, if any, with the governor. The U.S. attorney’s involvement is a game-changer for Christie; it means the scandal isn’t going away any time soon. The governor may find a good description of his political limbo in his hero Bruce Springsteen’s lyric: “And try to make an honest stand but they end up wounded, not even dead. Tonight in jungleland.”