Bridgegate Strikes Close to Home for Livingston Residents and Leaders

Govenor Chris Christie greets Eleanor Cohen when being inducted into the Livingstron Hometown Hall of Fame in October 2013. Credits: Jessica Marrone-Parkes

TRENTON, NJ – At a two hour press conference Thursday Governor Chris Christie, former Livingston resident, insisted that he had no part of the ‘Bridgegate’ scandal that occurred in Fort Lee last September.   

“I am a very sad man today. That’s the emotion I feel. A person close to me betrayed me. A person that I counted on and trusted for five years betrayed me. A person I gave a high government office to betrayed me.”

"I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team," Christie said.

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Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff and the person Christie felt betrayed him, was fired Thursday morning. Emails obtained by The Record show Kelly told David Wildstein, Former Port Authority chief of NJ and former resident and mayor of Livingston, that it was “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” about two weeks before the lanes were closed.

“I terminated her employment because she lied to me,” Christie said of the decision.

Following the press conference Christie traveled to Fort Lee to offer an apology to Mark Sokolich, Mayor of Fort Lee, for the gridlock that occurred in Sokolich’s township.

Although Sokolich stated that he wished Christie would have “saved the gas” and stayed home, he did concede that the meeting was a positive one. “It was a very productive meeting,” said Sokolich. “It was a cordial meeting. Really the most important concern…that I had on behalf of Fort Lee, along with the council, is that this never happens in the future. We were unconditionally, unequivocally provided with that assurance.”

Also Thursday, Wildstein, faced questions from the Assembly's transportation committee about certain text messages he sent and received regarding the gridlock scandal. Wildstein refused to answer questions pleading the Fifth Amendment.

News channel 12 New Jersey reports that NJ law states that NJ officials are not allowed to invoke the Fifth Amendment. State lawmakers have accused Wildstein of contempt. Wildstein resigned from his post as Port Authority chief last month.

With former Livingston residents, Christie and Wildstein both being at the helm of the situation, the story has hit close to home for some local residents.

"I think the governor gave an incredible press conference and I think he did exactly the right thing by canning those responsible and answering all questions and apologizing," said Livingston Mayor Michael Rieber, MD,FACS.

"The Ft. Lee mayor said he was never approached by Christie for his support," said Herbie Raskin, of West Orange. "Among the many questions is if that's not the motive for the "revenge," what really is the motive?"

Raskin added, "This story touches upon abuse of power. It's one of the few concerns that cross both sides of the political aisle and that all Americans, young and old, rich and poor, black and white all fear."

“While I am willing to accept Governor Christie's account of what happened,” said Livingston resident, Dr. Ralph D. Dell'Aquila, “I think that we should know more about how three days of lane closures at the George Washington Bridge and a traffic study played out. For instance, is there even a traffic study that anyone can produce? At best, it appears that there was a breakdown in communication. I don't see a good motive as to why Christie's select team members would block lanes for political gain as Christie was going to handily win against candidate Sen. Barbara Buono any way.”

"I am a longtime Livingston resident and local business owner,” said Jan Press, of Jan Press Photography. “I can understand the situation and circumstances that have lead up to this so called ‘Bridgegate’ scandal. I strongly believe that each and every one of us is innocent until proven guilty and is certainly afforded due process under the law. That said, as this process unfolds and the truth emerges, we should make judgments based on those facts and not before. This is what makes our town, state and country strong. Two Livingston men seem to be central to this mess—let’s hope that we can get to the truth and that justice will prevail.”

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