Six names you need to know in the New Jersey Bridge-gate scandal

The New Jersey traffic scandal that has rocked the world of politics is filled with both familiar names and below-the-radar operatives and appointees who were largely unknown to people beyond the world of those who work in or cover Garden State politics on a daily basis.

So who is involved? Who says they are not? And who has been caught in the middle?

Below we give you the five biggest names you need to know.

1. Chris Christie

Who is he? The Republican governor of New Jersey and a likely candidate for president in 2016. Christie won a second term last November in a landslide and is viewed as one of the GOP's brightest stars.

Where does he fit in? A handful of Christie aides and appointees were apparently involved in a politically motivated decision to close access lanes from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge last year. Christie has repeated that he played no part in the decision to target Fort Lee and only learned of it through a news report on Wednesday. He fired one of the aides at the center of the scandal and cut another loose.

What's next? It depends on what else we learn about this story. If this is an isolated incident, it's likely something that Christie can survive. But if similar examples surface, Christie's no-nonsense image is going to take a major hit -- even if he is not directly involved. 

2. Bill Stepien

Who is he? Christie's former campaign manager and one of his closest political advisers. Stepien was expected to play a leading role in a potential 2016 presidential campaign. But that's not likely to be the case anymore. Stepien has been encouraged not to run for state party chair and Christie has pretty much banished him from his circle of advisers.

Where does he fit in? While it's not clear that Stepien knew about the decision to close the lanes, he was in touch with a Christie appointee about fallout in the media as a result of the action, as revealed by e-mails disclosed this week.

What's next? It's hard to see how Christie welcomes Stepien back into the fold any time soon.

3. Bridget Anne Kelly

This Sept. 12, 2013 photo provided by the Office of the Governor of New Jersey shows Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly during a tour with Gov. Chris Christie of the Seaside Heights, N.J. boardwalk, after it was hit by a massive fire. Christie fired Kelly Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, and apologized over and over for his staff's

AP Photo/Office of Gov. Chris Christie, Tim Larsen

Who is she? Christie's now former deputy chief of staff. She was fired by the governor.

Where does she fit in? An e-mail from Kelly to a Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is what people will probably remember most about all of this. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," she wrote, clearly illustrating that she wanted to target the city.

What's next? It's safe to say Kelly and the Christie world have parted ways for good. But the question is what, if anything, she will say moving forward about this incident. So far, mum's been the word.

4. David Wildstein

TRENTON, NJ -  JANUARY 9:  David Wildstein, former director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority is sworn in to testify at a hearing held by the Assembly Transportation Committee January 9, 2014 in Trenton, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. The committee has subpoenaed David Wildstein former director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority to testify about the agency's decision to temporarily close some access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee in September 2013. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

 

Who is he? Christie appointed him to the Port Authority. The two also went to high school together -- though Christie sought to downplay the nature of their relationship in his Thursday news conference.

Where does he fit in? Wildstein responded to Kelly's e-mail about traffic problems with, "Got it." He resigned late last year as word of scandal started brewing publicly.

What's next? Like most of the people on this list, it's an open question dependent on what new information comes out about the scandal. Wildstein is being tight-lipped right now, though: He pleaded the Fifth at a hearing before state legislators Thursday.

5. Mark Sokolich

Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich speaks at a news conference in Fort Lee, New Jersey January 9, 2014. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Thursday fired a top aide at the center of a brewing scandal that public officials orchestrated a massive traffic snarl on the busy George Washington Bridge in September to settle a political score. Christie said at a separate news conference he was stunned and heartbroken by revelations that his staff was behind the traffic jam designed to punish Sokolich who declined to endorse Christie's re-election bid. REUTERS/Eric Thayer (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)

REUTERS/Eric Thayer

 

Who is he: The Democratic mayor of Fort Lee.

Where does he fit in: Sokolich did not endorse Christie in the 2013 election. While there is no evidence in the communications released so far that this is the reason that the lanes in his town were closed, that's the explanation many critics of Christie and his allies have been pushing.

What's next? Christie met with Sokolich Thursday to do some damage control. After the meeting, the mayor said he took Christie at his word that he had nothing to do with it. His name will continue to be in the news because it was his town where the whole thing unfolded.

6. Loretta Weinberg

New Jersey Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski,D-Sayreville, N.J., left, listens as Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, N.J., answerrs a question at the Statehouse, in Trenton, N.J., Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, after a top aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was linked through emails and text messages to a seemingly deliberate plan to create traffic gridlock Fort Lee, N.J., at the base of the George Washington Bridge after its mayor refused to endorse Christie for re-election. Assemblyman Wisniewski says a subpoena was issued Tuesday to David Wildstein, a top political appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ordering him to appear before an Assembly panel on Jan. 9. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

AP Photo/Mel Evans

 

Who is she: The Democratic Senate majority leader in the New Jersey state assembly and one of Christie's most vocal opponents.

Where does she fit in: Weinberg represents Fort Lee, the city gridlocked by the traffic jams, and there has been some speculation that she was the real target of Christie's aides. In a press conference 12 hours before the emails arranging the jams were sent, Christie had called Weinberg and other Senate Democrats "animals" for the way they were treating his nominations for the state Supreme Court. At the same press conference, Christie yanked a Republican justice off the court to spare her a contentious reappointment hearing. The justice was also the wife of a close Christie aide. Weinberg has been aggressively probing the lane closures for months, including showing up at Port Authority board meetings to question commissioners. Christie and Weinberg have a long history: he once urged reporters to “take a bat” to Weinberg, and  afterwards, she displayed two mini Louisville Sluggers on her office mantle – one with her name engraved on it and a noticeably smaller one with Chris Christie’s name.

What's next? No link to Weinberg has been proven, but expect to see plenty of questions raised in the coming days about Christie's relationship with her and about his bipartisan bona fides.

 

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