How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Reflections on the Bridegate Scandal

Julie Roginsky is a very savvy Democratic operative, who I generally agree with. However, I don’t agree with her recent comment regarding Bridgegate. Here’s what Julie said, “I have a very big problem with the notion that we are sending anyone to prison for a dumb stunt that doesn’t merit incarceration.”

Someone should definitely have gone to prison for Bridgegate. I would have preferred if it were David Wildstein, Governor Christie’s $150,000 a year patronage appointment at the Port Authority, and the mastermind of Bridgegate. I believe justice would have been better served if Wildstein had gotten prison time and Baroni and Kelly had accepted full responsibility for their actions and had been sentenced to fines and extensive community service.

At this juncture, I’m most sympatric toward Bill Baron, who unlike Bridgette Ann Kelly has indicated that his actions were a result of his wanting “to be on the team. I wanted to please him [Governor Christie], but I chose to get sucked into his cult and culture.” Kelly, on the other hand continues to refuse to take responsibility for her action and offers hard to fathom explanations for her very damaging text message (“time for traffic problems in Fort Lee” and “why am I smiling”).

I’m not okay with no one going to prison; for closing down the local access roads to the George Washington Bridge; and creating massive traffic jams to punish the Mayor of Fort Lee who was perceived as backtracking on his endorsement of Chris Christie for Governor. I see Bridgegate as much worse than the kinds of political corruption that put hundreds of New Jersey politicians in prison over the years.

Stealing from the public till, accepting kick-backs or bribes from contractors, requiring campaign contributions as a condition of doing business, no-show jobs, padding the public payrolls with political hacks or requiring public employees to give “10% to the boys downtown” for the privilege of their jobs are all crimes that result in taxpayers paying more for government services or receiving inferior services. They are all crimes of greed. Bridgegate was much worse. It was an abuse of power that put public-safety at-risk.

The traffic problems that were created in Fort Lee could have killed someone by increasing the time it took for an ambulance to get to hospital with a critically ill patient or for fire truck trying to get to a fire. The path that was pursued in Bridgegate is a very dangerous slippery slop.

If you don’t come down extremely hard on using the power of government to retaliate against or punish a political opponent, you are opening yourself up to possible extremely negative consequences. Let me give you a few examples. You did not support your local Mayor and subsequently the Zoning Board, filled with his/her appointees turns down your reasonable no-brainer request for a variance. Or the Mayor gets back at your for a transgression by letting the local snow removal contractor know that your street doesn’t get plowed. Have a heart attack and the ambulance can’t get to your house.

Instead of traffic jam, the punishment against a recalcitrant Mayor by a bully-like Governor and/or his staff could be a state takeover. Or what if you had a vindictive autocratic Republican President who decided that he would punish Democrats by transporting immigrants trying to cross the border and those currently being held in facilities to “sanctuary cities” (cities where local authorities have not cooperated with federal immigration enforcement authorities in the past). According to a report in The Washington Post, this is an idea that President Trump has floated on two occasions since November to U.S. Customs Enforcement. The most prominent sanctuary city is San Francisco, which is in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district.

Normally in cases, like Bridgegate, the prosecutor get the people lower in the hierarchy to flip so you can get the bigger fish. In this case, David Wildstein, who acknowledged conceiving and implementing the Bridgegate scheme, beat Baroni and Kelly to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and received a much too good sweetheart deal in exchange for his testimony against others. He escaped prison and received three years probation and 500 hours of community service time in exchange for testifying against Baroni and Kelly at trial. The biggest fish of all, Governor Christie, who created the environment that allowed his staff to think that political retaliation and retribution was okay, avoided any legal consequences since no evidence was present that he authorized the scheme.

I find it difficult to believe that Wildstein, a long-time pol, implemented his scheme without ever touching base with the big fish. Wildstein indicated that he did tell Governor Christie in advance, but provide no evidence to support his contention. I agree with Mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, who said this to say about Kelly “I don’t think she was the ring leaders. It’s disappointing that it’s more than apparent that others involved in the conspiracy who are simply watching this from the sidelines.”

I’m not sure that flipping, a tactic often utilized by prosecutors to get those lower in criminal organizations to cooperate and provide evidence against gang kingpins, produced a just result in Bridgegate. Was justice really served by cutting a deal with David Wildstein?