Key official in Christie’s bridge controversy resigns

December 13, 2013

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has replaced his top official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as questions about politics and lane closures on a key bridge continue to dog the potential 2016 presidential candidate.

Christie announced Friday that Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director of the port authority, has resigned. He has been replaced by Deborah Gramiccioni.

Baroni is the second top Port Authority official to resign in the past week.

Christie said that Baroni's departure was already part of his plans, prior to the controversy, according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

But it comes as Democrats have accused Christie of orchestrating political payback against a mayor who declined to endorse his reelection bid this year.

Two of three access lanes from Fort Lee, N.J., to the George Washington Bridge between New York and New Jersey were closed from Sept. 9 to Sept. 13, creating a bottleneck. Democrats contend Christie orchestrated the unprecedented lane closures to make Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich (D) look bad. The administration has said it was part of a traffic study to see if traffic on the bridge flowed better by reducing the access lanes.

The closures were made at the request of David Wildstein, whom Christie appointed as director of interstate capital projects -- the second-ranking appointee on the port authority, behind Baroni. Wildstein reportedly said that the lane closures were to be done in secret -- without telling officials in New Jersey or New York.

Wildstein announced his resignation, effective Jan. 1, a week ago, saying he had planned to leave but no longer wanted to be a distraction. Christie said Friday that Wildstein is no longer on the payroll, according to the Star-Ledger.

Christie has said that Baroni failed to follow proper protocol in carrying out Wildstein's request and that "a mistake was made."

The Port Authority is run jointly by the governors of New York and New Jersey. Christie on Friday also denied a report that he called New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to complain about one how one of Cuomo's appointees was handling the controversy.

"I did not have that conversation with Gov. Cuomo in any way shape or form, and he did not have that conversation with me," Christie said, according to the Star-Ledger.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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