New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, engulfed in scandal over the politically motivated closing of bridge access lanes and questions about how he spent federal Hurricane Sandy aid, pledged Tuesday to “cooperate with all appropriate inquiries.”
In his annual State of the State speech from the State Capitol in Trenton, the two-term Republican governor made quick work of the George Washington Bridge controversy, which hopelessly snarled traffic in the city of Fort Lee for days. The circumstances surrounding the episode have clouded the prospects of a potential presidential bid in 2016.
“The last week has certainly tested this administration,” Christie said at the outset of his speech to a packed legislative chamber. “Mistakes were clearly made and as a result we let down the people we’re entrusted to serve.
“I know our citizens deserve better, much better,” said Christie, who also serves as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He has steadfastly denied involvement in the lane closures, including during a two-hour press conference last week at which he announced he had fired top aide Bridget Anne Kelly for allegedly “lying” to him about what she knew.
Recently released documents revealed Kelly wrote, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” to a Christie loyalist who worked at the agency in charge of managing the bridge.
“I’m the governor,” Christie said Tuesday. “I am ultimately responsible.”
Christie, who received a generally warm welcome as he entered the chamber behind two state troopers, pivoted quickly from the controversy to a laundry list of economic successes New Jersey has racked up during his administration.
“What has occurred doesn’t define us or our state,” he said, before ticking off improved employment rates and job creation, and bipartisan efforts that led to balanced budgets, “pension reform and tenure reform” and a cap on property taxes.
The so-called “Bridgegate” scandal may not ultimately define New Jersey any more than other previous state scandals, but it has come perilously close to defining Christie — and in a much different way than the bipartisan, straight-talking persona he has sought to cultivate as governor.
Accusations that Christie’s top aides exacted political revenge by closing two of three George Washington Bridge entrance lanes from Fort Lee after the city’s Democratic mayor declined to endorse the governor in his re-election run last year have exacted an already high toll.
State Democratic legislators have formed special investigative committees armed with subpoena power to look into how the lane closures came to pass, what the governor knew of the scheme and when he knew it.
And federal auditors are investigating how $25 million in Hurricane Sandy aid earmarked for media efforts was spent, with a focus on a television ad campaign that featured the governor and his family during Christie’s re-election campaign.
Meanwhile, two polls released since Bridgegate broke contained mixed results. The topline of a Pew poll read, “views of Chris Christie largely unchanged in recent days.” And a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll found that while 52 percent of those surveyed don’t believe Christie was personally involved in the lane closures, 51 percent said that their governor hasn’t been completely honest about what he knows.