Chris Christie began his second term as New Jersey governor with Democratic state legislators aligning in a probe of whether his administration orchestrated tie-ups at the George Washington Bridge as political payback.
Christie yesterday didn’t mention controversies threatening his possible 2016 run for the Republican presidential nomination, instead using his inaugural address to blast political gamesmanship and call for bipartisan compromise.
Before his speech, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said they were merging inquiries into what Christie or his aides knew about the shutdown of two of three bridge-access lanes from Fort Lee. For four days, traffic in the borough was brought to a standstill.
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, hadn’t joined colleagues to cross party lines and endorse Christie for re-election. The jams followed a message from Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, to David Wildstein, a Christie ally at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Christie’s calls for smaller government and lower taxes made him a national figure during his first term. He turned down calls to run for president in 2011, yet hasn’t ruled out a 2016 bid. As current chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he can boost his national profile and collect political favors while running ads for and delivering RGA checks to candidates campaigning for governor in 2014 -- including those in states with early presidential primaries.
“We cannot fall victim to the attitude of Washington,” Christie, 51, told lawmakers and political allies in Trenton yesterday. “The attitude that says ‘I am always right and you are always wrong.’ The attitude that puts everyone into a box they are not permitted to leave. The attitude that puts political wins ahead of policy agreements. The belief that compromise is a dirty word.”
The scandal has thrown Christie’s political script into turmoil after he won a second term in November with 60 percent of the vote in a Democratic-leaning state. Christie is losing ground to Democrat Hillary Clinton in a potential 2016 presidential matchup, a poll released yesterday showed.
Christie trailed Clinton 46 percent to 38 percent among American voters, according to the survey by Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University. Last month, the university’s poll showed the two essentially tied at about 40 percent each.
The biggest shift since December was among independent voters whose support for Christie dropped to 40 percent from 47 percent. Clinton’s standing among those same voters climbed to 41 percent from 32 percent.
In his speech, Christie sought to pivot to economic issues.
“I do not believe that New Jerseyans want a bigger, more expensive government that penalizes success and then gives the pittance left to a few in the name of income equity,” the governor said after taking the oath of office. “What New Jerseyans want is an unfettered opportunity to succeed in the way they define success. They want an equal chance at the starting; not a government guaranteed result.”
In addition to the traffic jam, the independent inspector general of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it was auditing Christie’s expenditure of $25 million in federal Hurricane Sandy disaster aid on a “Stronger Than The Storm” ad campaign featuring Christie, his wife and their four children.
Another challenge emerged last weekend as Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat, accused Christie’s administration of linking Hurricane Sandy disaster aid to her endorsement of a redevelopment project.
While state Senator Sweeney, of West Deptford, called Zimmer’s allegations “shocking,” he voiced confidence that Democrats will be able to work with Christie.
“It’s strictly business,” Sweeney said in an interview. “It’s not emotional. It’s not personal. We have an obligation to the people of this state to continue to work to find solutions to problems.”