Bridgegate and the decline of American politics
WASHINGTON, November 7, 2016 — New Jersey politics has become so petty and so inundated with the trivial that every judge and prosecutor feels compelled to intrude into every issue, regardless of the merits, for the sake of headlines.
A traffic study is not a crime. Assault, murder and bribery are crimes. Former Port Authority official Bill Baroni needs Hillary Clinton’s attorney; former Chris Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly needs to hire a Wall Street legal team. The government attorneys representing them are not presenting effectively reasoned arguments.
If staffers were charged and tried every time they did something that displeased a local elected official, the legal system would collapse. The judiciary set a bad precedent by hearing the Bridgegate case against Baroni and Kelly.
Where do you reasonably draw the line between coercion and consensus? A plan to benefit one area draws the praise of those who live there; if the same plan harms another area, the people there call it coercive.
Bridget Kelly wrote, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Taken out of context, that sounds bad. Many of the people attacking Christie through her have said the same of WikiLeaked emails from Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff: Context matters.
Staff emails since the inception of electronic communications have included derogatory comments about people and programs. Legislators refer to budget hearings, where community groups pitch their funding requests to the legislative body, as “begging season.”
That sound awful, but it’s never stopped the hearings from taking place.
Is it permissible for a governor’s staff to order a major traffic study in the town of a mayor who didn’t endorse him? What if the study must be completed regardless of who wins the election?
New Jersey is building new roads and reconstructing old ones all across the state. That means traffic studies, and a lot of them, in towns whose officials both endorsed Christie and opposed him. That means inconveniences, sometimes major, for those who drive.
Kelly’s comment was taken out of context. She might have said instead, “I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor, but unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, there are going to be traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
That she phrased her comment badly is not a crime.
It is not illegal to conduct a traffic study, under any statute. Period. Traffic studies are a part of every major transportation planning project, and New Jersey is conducting major transportation infrastructure overhauls across almost every inch of the state.
If a traffic study is not an illegal act, what exactly did the prosecutors take up the court’s time to prove? Was it that there was tension between staffers and a local elected official? Like traffic studies, that’s a fact of life.
It’s impossible to please everybody; the ones we most displease are often those with an axe to grind. Rarely are they the ones who best understand the costs and benefits of the project thy hate.
There was no crime in Bridgegate. A staffer who may have been peeved at a local official made a cold, honest statement about a problem about to hit that official’s town. That cannot be illegal; expressing emotions is not against the law.
That this case made it to trial shows how ridiculous American politics has become of late. Blame the Daily Show; they made great tv and now everybody wants to imitate the concept, even the mainstream media.
The world is a difficult place. People live with serious threats to their lives, livelihoods and families. Americans face genuine problems, problems that should worry our governors and our courts. The Bridgegate traffic study hardly rises to he level of serious, let alone illegal.