Christie Aide Fired Over Traffic Spent Decade in PoliticsMichael C. Bender
Bridget Anne Kelly, the aide to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who was fired yesterday after ordering traffic congestion in a city whose mayor didn’t endorse her boss, rose to work in the state’s top office after more than 10 years in local politics.
A mother of four and resident of Ramsey, a New York suburb, the 41-year-old Kelly joined the administration in 2010, Christie’s first year in office, according to a biography since removed from the governor’s website. She was previously president of the Ramsey Republican Club and an aide to Republican state Assemblyman Dave Russo.
Last year, Christie, a Republican, named her to a $114,000-a-year job as deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs.
Kelly is at the center of a controversy that has touched off a U.S. Justice Department investigation and threatens Christie’s possible 2016 presidential run. Christie yesterday described her behavior as “stupid” and “deceitful” for failing to disclose her role in closing traffic lanes in Fort Lee, a town of 35,700 at the end of the George Washington Bridge.
“I have not had any conversation with Bridget Kelly since the e-mail came out,” Christie, 51, told reporters yesterday. “She was not given the opportunity to explain to me why she lied because it was so obvious that she had.”
Kelly sent a message to David Wildstein, a Christie authority appointee, on Aug. 13, telling him it was “time for some traffic problems.” The message came a few weeks before surprise lane closings on the George Washington Bridge, paralyzing traffic and delaying crews from responding to medical emergencies, including that of a 91-year-old woman who suffered cardiac arrest and later died.
Kelly didn’t respond to a telephone message left at her home seeking comment.
The chairman of the state Assembly’s transportation panel, John Wisniewski, a Democrat, told reporters in Trenton yesterday that he plans to subpoena Kelly as part of an investigation into the lane closings.
Kelly’s posts on Twitter reference “Turkey Trots” with her family, praise for well-kept lawns and a preference for red wine and the Irish singer, Enya.
“I don’t remember her being a cut-throat political operative in any way,” Daniel Quinonez, a Washington-based public relations consultant who worked in Bergen County politics, said in an interview. “She was more of a policy person who, if there was something happening in town, worked with the local officials.”
Quinonez described Kelly as “always friendly and nice” and someone who regularly returned phone calls. The two were on opposite sides of a Republican primary contest for the U.S. House in 2002, he said.
“There was a lot of bad blood in that race, but Bridget wasn’t the one who caused it,” Quinonez said.
Kelly has been a member of a number of municipal boards and committees, as well as active in local and county Republican organizations, according to the Star-Ledger of Newark. The newspaper reported that she served on the Parent Faculty Board at her children’s school.
Kelly graduated in 1994 from Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland with a bachelor of arts degree in political science, said Christian Kendzierski, a spokesman.
Christie said he was “heartbroken” when he fired her.
“I trusted that I was being told the truth, and I wasn’t,” Christie said. “And I wasn’t by somebody who I placed a significant amount of trust in.”
Christie said Kelly had no policy authority, and that he learned about her involvement from news reports.
“You can only imagine, as I was standing there in my bedroom with my iPad looking at that, how incredibly sad and betrayed I felt,” he said. “I don’t know what to say beyond that.”