TRENTON, N.J. — The issue at hand is small, even for local politics: The sudden closure, over four days, of a pair of access lanes from Fort Lee, N.J., onto the George Washington Bridge into New York.
But in this traffic mystery, Democrats see a potential scandal that could permanently harm Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who has been riding high as a prospective 2016 presidential candidate.
In September, two of Christie’s top appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ordered the lanes abruptly shut to traffic, causing days of gridlock in Fort Lee. Democrats allege that the move was political retribution against the town’s mayor, Democrat Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing Christie for reelection this year.
With Democratic legislators using their subpoena power to bring e-mails and testimony into public view, the two appointees involved in the lane closure have resigned.
Christie has claimed no advance knowledge of the incident and has denied any wrongdoing on the part of his administration. But that hasn’t kept Democrats here and in Washington from pouncing.
The goal is to puncture the image Christie carefully cultivated of himself since Superstorm Sandy in 2012 as a bipartisan bridge-builder and trustworthy, if pugnacious, executive. His detractors say the episode reveals Christie as who they say he really is — a nasty and corrupt New Jersey politician who bullies those standing in his way.
“It undercuts his key argument that he’s a straight shooter,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Czin. “It highlights the worst about his bombast and his condescension.”
In interviews here this week, one Democratic leader said the “Bridge-gate” episode reveals the Christie administration’s “Nixon-like dirty tricks,” while another likened it to Watergate. A third speculated about impeachment.
It's a little early for such talk, especially given that there's nothing tying Christie to the decision yet. But the drawn-out nature of this matter isn't helping the likely 2016 presidential candidate.
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