Tolled Bridge
Why Christie’s failure matters far west of the Hudson.

Chris Christie meets the press on January 9.


In mid-week, Mayor Sokolich left a message for Baroni — one that Baroni’s staff related as “an urgent matter of public safety.” Baroni’s response, as related by Wildstein to Kelly: “radio silence.” After trying to reach him by phone, Sokolich sent Baroni a letter, pleading that “our emergency service vehicles are experiencing tremendous response time delays. Unquestionably, this decision has negatively impacted public safety.”

Here was a mayor desperately trying to reach public servants to rectify a perilous situation. The people Christie had chosen to trust with other people’s lives unanimously reacted with chilling indifference.

And what did an even higher-placed Christie appointee, Port Authority chairman David Samson, have to say when — at minimum — presented with evidence of mass sociopathic behavior on the part of his fellow Christie loyalists? Samson was upset that Foye, Cuomo’s top man at the authority, was attempting to undo the damage and level with the public. Foye is “playing in traffic, made a big mistake,” Samson penned.

The second problem for Christie is that Bridgegate imperils his biggest accomplishment as governor: changing the national conversation on public-sector workforce reform. Christie was one of the first governors of either party, after 2008, to take seriously the issue of ballooning public-sector pension and health-care benefits. He also embraced an older issue, merit pay for good teachers.

The obvious point to make here is that Christie’s top men at the Port Authority weren’t so interested in cutting public-sector costs when higher costs benefited them. As the manager of the George Washington Bridge, Robert Durando, noted internally, closing automated toll lanes in favor of a manned lane “has the potential to be very expensive and labor intensive.” Durando noted that extra “toll-collector costs” would be $600,000 annually. “There are also additional, as yet undetermined police costs.” Union leaders can now say that Christie’s administration wanted to cut their pensions — but didn’t mind spending tollpayer money on a dose of political revenge.

The more devastating argument, though, is subtler. Union leaders often say that public workers need to organize themselves so that they can fight fairly against managers and political appointees whose motives are not exactly better governance. Bridgegate shows why such fear remains justified in the 21st century. Durando, a management employee, has already testified that he didn’t push back against the strange directive to close off bridge access because he was afraid for his job.

Now Christie’s top staff have given the public good reason to assume that the people who are worried about out-of-control costs at public-sector unions also have contempt for public-sector workers. For that’s what Christie’s handpicked people showed for the longtime Port Authority staffers who were just trying to do their jobs: utter contempt. That keeping a bridge or an airport in safe working condition actually takes work never occurred to them.

At his press conference on Thursday, Christie spent a lot of time talking about himself and how sad he was. Many other people have good reason to be sad, too.

— Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. @nicolegelinas on Twitter.


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