Chris Christie at Canossa

Hard to see how Christie survives the Fort Lee episode now.  In his presser this morning, we learned that for four months, he was unable to learn anything about the little game his nearest and dearest played with the people in Fort Lee in September, and that when he called everyone into the room weeks ago to tell him if they knew anything about it, he accepted “no’s” without even asking for the email correspondence that came out yesterday, or, apparently, having individual conversations (he’s an ex-US Attorney!) with folks to see if their stories matched.  So with all the powers and authority of his office, he managed to be the last person on the planet to know what his people were up to.

A couple of angles on this story worth noting: First,  Christie himself has a public record of indifference to cross-Hudson commuters generally, going back three years, so maybe his people were just making reasonable inferences about what would make him happy.  Second, the pettiness and pointlessness of the whole exercise.  The bridge trick might be a useful signal to other state pols about the cost of crossing the gov, but that only works if it’s widely known that it happened and why! Other than that, it’s striking that no-one made a penny from the whole thing, and I must say, if New Jersey corruption conventions have so completely departed from their historic basic values, things are in a really bad way there.

More interesting, and not emphasized yet in reporting, is his repeated insistence throughout this morning’s damage control that he threw Ms. Kelly under the bus because she lied to him.  Not, because she obviously has terrible judgment and a petty vengeful streak, or that her continuation in any office is a clear and present danger to the people of the state: because she lied to him.  Personal loyalty is what it’s about for Chris, and there are few more dangerous qualities in a government official than to count your lieutenants’ devotion to your short-term comfort above their ability or motivation to do their jobs.  Good pols seek out people to play Nathan to their Uriah moments; bad ones just have a posse of yessers.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

5 thoughts on “Chris Christie at Canossa”

  1. What puzzles me is how lane closures were supposed to hurt the Ft. Lee mayor. He did not close the lanes (he has nothing to do with the Port Authority). I guess he looks bad when he has to say “I do not know what is going on. I have called the Port Authority repeatedly and they have not returned my calls.”, but even if that is it, the PA would eventually have to say something and it is hard to see how that something would reflect badly on him (and as we saw, the NY officials at the PA had no interest in protecting anyone).

    Is this a horse’s head in the bed? “Cross us and you’ll regret it. This is just a warning. Next time it will be worse!” I guess, but just as other pols have to know what happened and why (so they would know to watch out), the Ft. Lee mayor would have to be told “that is what happens when you cross us!” Maybe they thought everyone would forget about it pretty much, but they could point to it meaningfully when necessary “Remember those traffic jams in Ft. Lee? (Look them up!) Isn’t your town next an exit on the Garden State? It would be too bad if all the toll booths were closed for repairs, wouldn’t it?”

    The other interesting thing is the “Time for some traffic in Ft. Lee”, response “got it”. It makes no sense unless Kelley and the PA guy (begins with a W but I can’t be bothered to look it up) had already discussed what they were going to do. So there is much more to be revealed.

    1. It’s not that hard. If they can make the citizens of Fort Lee generally unhappy, they can make the local officials fear for their careers. It helps if the unhappiness is somehow manifestly connected to governmental authority (albeit state-controlled and not locally controlled), but it isn’t essential: if they could have controlled local radio to play crappy music, that would have worked, too. And the knowledge of why the local citizens are peeved doesn’t have to spread widely: a quiet, suggestive, indirect word can always be whispered in the appropriate ear. Or, indeed, the bullies can keep the knowledge secret among themselves, perhaps chuckling with each other about how their political enemies’ lives are unduly difficult.

    2. …and yet the national GOP is quite open about doing anything and everything to fuck the country while Obama is President, on the generally correct theory that the person most identified with the fortunes of a place is the one that reaps the consequences of everything that happens there.

  2. I think there could have been more people involved, and I wouldn’t assume Kelly was the instigatrix. And I agree, calling a big meeting and expecting confessions is a good way to not find anything out.

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