Friday, October 31st, 2014

Bridgegate: Were Fort Lee students 'children of Buono voters'?

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie apologizes for his aide's involvement in the George Washington Bridge lane closures.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie apologizes for his aide's involvement in the George Washington Bridge lane closures.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, is facing a scandal creatively dubbed "Bridgegate," where emails and text messages linked his office to September lane closures of the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J.

The move is thought to be political retribution for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat. He had endorsed Christie’s opponent, State Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, for governor in 2013.

Then-Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly sent an Aug. 13 email to then-Port Authority employee David Wildstein saying, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Another exchange showed a text message conversation between Wildstein and an unknown person. (The documents obtained by The Record of New Jersey's Bergen County were partially redacted.) The lane closures caused many Fort Lee students to be late for their first day of school.

"I feel badly about the kids," the unknown person said. "I guess."

"They are the children of Buono voters," Wildstein replied.

We wondered if that was accurate. After all, didn’t Christie won the state by an overwhelming margin? We decided to check out the voting returns to see if Fort Lee rejected him.

We won’t rate this on our Truth-O-Meter, since Wildstein wrote that message in September, two months prior to the gubernatorial election. We didn’t hear back from Wildstein’s attorney. Presumably, he was busy with other things.

Fort Lee is a borough in Bergen County in the northern part of the state. The U.S. Census Bureau put its 2012 population at 35,732 people. Fort Lee is known for its access to the George Washington Bridge, which connects to Washington Heights in Manhattan. As PolitiFact New Jersey has noted, it’s Pants-on-Fire wrong to say that only Fort Lee residents use those access lanes to the bridge.

Here’s how the Fort Lee votes broke down, according to results published by the Bergen County Clerk’s office:

 

Candidate Number of votes Percentage of vote
Christie 3,735 55.3%
Buono 2,941 43.5%
Other 84 1.2%
TOTALS 6,760

100%

 

So Fort Lee went slightly less red than Bergen County as a whole, which Christie also won with 60.2 percent of the vote. He got 60.4 percent in the state as a whole. Buono carried just two of the state’s 21 counties: Hudson and Essex.

The evidence is pointing toward Christie’s staff creating traffic havoc for a northern New Jersey town, ostensibly as political revenge for the mayor’s Buono endorsement. So it’s more than a little ironic that a majority of the town’s voters went with Christie despite the mayor’s word. Many of the school children on the stalled buses were more than likely the children of Christie voters.