Democrats drag bridge scandal into race to succeed Christie
FORT LEE, N.J. (AP) — Democrats hoping to win this year’s contest to succeed Republican Gov. Chris Christie dragged the George Washington Bridge lane closures scandal into the campaign on Tuesday, with the mayor whose streets were deliberately gridlocked in 2013 taking aim at the administration.
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich joined fellow Democrats Rep. Bill Pascrell, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer on Tuesday to attack Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who is Democrat Phil Murphy’s top rival in the Nov. 7 contest.
“I can’t think of another town in the state that yearns for strong, strong honest leadership more than Fort Lee,” Sokolich said.
Guadagno was not implicated in the Bridgegate scandal and didn’t face any charges. Christie, who denied wrongdoing, also faced no charges.
Prosecutors say the 2013 scheme was masterminded by Christie’s former high school classmate David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty in federal court, and resulted in Fort Lee’s access lanes to the bridge being closed at the start of the school year. The bridge, which connects Fort Lee with New York City, is one of the busiest in the world.
The scandal stemmed from an effort to exact political retribution against Sokolich, who declined to endorse Christie’s re-election bid. Christie, who was popular at the time and was viewed as a possible presidential candidate, was aiming to rack up Democratic support ahead of his re-election.
Tuesday’s event, at a park overlooking the bridge, included a Murphy campaign sign and was aimed at linking Guadagno to the Bridgegate scandal. Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and Obama administration ambassador to Germany, leads Guadagno in polls in the campaign to succeed the term-limited Christie.
The event came the day Murphy unveiled a new 30-second TV spot that says Christie and Guadagno’s biggest triumph “was a traffic jam.”
Guadagno’s campaign called the ad “pathetic” and shot down any connection between Christie’s top deputy and the scandal.
“Kim Guadagno had nothing to do with Bridgegate, and everyone knows it,” Guadagno spokesman Ricky Diaz said.
Two other Christie allies were convicted in federal court in the scandal. Bridget Kelly, his former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, his appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, were convicted of wire fraud, conspiracy and misusing the bridge for improper purposes.
Kelly faces 18 months in prison while Baroni was sentenced to two years. They have appealed and say their actions did not amount to criminal conduct under the law.