If Occupy Wall Street protesters get arrested for blocking a bridge to make a larger point, then every member of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s administration should receive at least the same treatment, if not face greater charges.
During his January 9 press conference, Gov. Christie’s explanations of the scandal in which he used his official position to score political payback prove that he’s corrupt, a coward and a bully. He’s a coward for deflecting accountability away from himself to members of his administration.
And he’s a bully for shutting down traffic in a political opponent’s city simply because that public official exercised his First Amendment rights to support a gubernatorial candidate other than Christie. But this is just the latest incident in Christie’s long career of cowardice, bullying and corruption.
As Ezra Klein wrote, Gov. Christie has a staffer who is paid to follow him around with a camera, record him bullying his constituents, and proudly post the videos on YouTube. One clip showed Gov. Christie shouting “Keep walking! Keep walking!” to a constituent who was criticizing him openly.
Another incident involved Christie shouting at a teacher who dared to criticize him at a campaign rally. There’s no reason to engage in such buffoonery as governor of a state unless you are actively trying to cultivate a tough-guy political image.
One of the most cowardly ways Christie exercised his executive power was by setting the date for the special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, which popular Newark Mayor Cory Booker had already said he would seek. The three dates Christie could have chosen for the election were a Tuesday in November 2014, a Tuesday in November 2013, or a date of his choosing.
While Christie said he went with the last choice – October 15 – in order for the election to be held as soon as possible, it’s been widely speculated that he chose the date so he wouldn’t have to share a ballot with Booker in November, which would have provoked a much higher turnout for State Senator Barbara Buono, Christie's gubernatorial opponent.
Christie’s most nakedly corrupt acts as governor was in using his executive power to remove a public official from office for opposing one of his campaign contributor’s projects. On January 10, the New Jersey Pineland Commission is set to vote on a controversial pipeline that will run through state protective land, possibly harming residents nearby and threatening protected plants and wildlife.
On December 13, one of Christie’s deputy attorney generals removed Ed Lloyd, an environmental law professor, from the Pinelands Commission accusing him of having a conflict of interest in the upcoming vote. Lloyd’s firing came without due process and resulted in a weakening of the opposition bloc – which makes the close vote on the 15-member board this Friday even closer.
Normally, the commission will favor projects if they are built for the public good. But in this case, the two-foot-wide, 10-mile-long gas pipeline is solely for the profit of South Jersey Gas and Rockland Capital, which is financing the pipeline. In the 2009 election, Rockland Capital president Joseph Lambert donated $3,400 to Christie’s campaign.
While campaign finance records haven’t yet been made public for the 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial election, it’s probable that Lambert and other officials at Rockland and South Jersey had a financial stake in Christie’s success. And Lloyd’s removal from the Pinelands Commission, in which he claims there was no conflict of interest, likely resulted from Gov. Christie using executive power to improve his sponsor’s chances at getting rich.
What Chris Christie has in common with bullies is that he steals kids’ lunch money to give to his rich friends. Since he was inaugurated in 2010, Christie has cut public education by $1 billion, while giving out $2.1 billion in corporate tax breaks – half a billion more than the state previously gave out in the last ten years combined. The most recent corporate tax break bill Gov. Christie signed made it even easier for corporations to have access to public money.
The bill, the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, expanded from 47 pages to 82 pages , and once it got to Gov. Christie’s desk he vetoed it and told the legislature he wouldn’t pass it unless language was taken out that guaranteed prevailing wages for the employees of companies receiving the tax breaks.
The bill’s key sponsor, Rep. Al Coutinho (D-Essex), was just as corrupt himself. Christie signed the tax breaks into law a week after Coutinho resigned as a result of pleading guilty to stealing money from his family’s foundation. As a consequence of Christie’s education cuts, schools in New Jersey have been forced to cut AP and Honors classes, make kids pay to participate in extra-curricular activities, and lay off staff like coaches, teacher assistants and janitors.
It is despicable for a public official like Gov. Christie to exercise state powers to help friends and scorn opponents, and anyone who does this should must not only lose his or her office, but also face criminal charges. When Christie shut down lanes on the George Washington Bridge to punish Fort Lee’s mayor for not supporting his re-election bid, he and everyone who followed his orders should be arrested – just as Occupy Wall Street activists were when we blocked bridges in acts of civil disobedience.
On November 17, 2011, I helped organize the blocking of the Travis Street Bridge in downtown Houston, Texas, during evening rush hour traffic. The action I was part of was also taking place in major cities across the country, where roughly 1,000 people were arrested in acts of civil disobedience, speaking out about the importance of fixing unemployment by repairing crumbling infrastructure like bridges.
But unlike members of Christie’s administration, these activists were private citizens peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights to make a larger political point. Christie, on the other hand, was spitefully using his power as a public official to bully a political opponent.
When will top Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly face criminal charges for emailing “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” and doing it from her Yahoo account instead of her work account? When will we see those responsible for maliciously shutting down a critical national thoroughfare face the consequences for a petty, political act that ruined the days of everyone involved in those traffic jams? If the state puts political activists in handcuffs for shutting down bridges, it should do the same to governors and the minions who do their bidding.