Thursday, January 9, 2014

Chris Christie bridge scandal: Traffic delay slowed response to patient


In September, according to a report from the Bergen Record, paramedics trying to reach an unconscious 91-year-old woman in Fort Lee, N.J., got stuck in a traffic jam that had apparently been created by associates for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as retaliation against a Democratic mayor.
Multiple lanes were forced to merge into one, gridlocking traffic for days. The woman later died at a hospital of cardiac arrest, according to a Sept. 10 letter that EMS coordinator Paul Favia sent to the borough's mayor. 
Although Favia did not explicitly blame the woman's death on the traffic delay -- the paramedics got to her in seven minutes -- it was one of four such delays reported by the coordinator, the Record reported.
"Paramedics were delayed due to heavy traffic on Fort Lee Road and had to meet the ambulance en-route to the hospital instead of on the scene," Favia wrote.
Christie had insisted he and his staff had nothing to do with the lane closings. Emails released on Wednesday, however, showed that at least one of his top aides was involved in discussions about the closures weeks beforehand.
A Republican widely expected to make a bid for the White House in 2016, Christie has become embroiled in the scandal over the closing of part of the access to George Washington Bridge, a move seen as meant to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.

"What I've seen today for the first time is unacceptable. I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge," Christie said in a statement.
The George Washington Bridge is among the world's busiest, carrying some 300,000 vehicles on a typical day. The abrupt and unexpected lane closures, which lasted four days in September, badly snarled traffic in the borough of Fort Lee at the New Jersey end of the bridge.

Critics say the shutdown was retribution against the mayor, who did not endorse the governor's re-election efforts. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the bridge, said it was the result of a last-minute traffic study.

The emails raised fresh questions about the involvement of Christie's administration.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," his aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, wrote to a Port Authority executive in August.

The executive, David Wildstein, replied in an email: "Got it."

The emails do not give a specific reason for the closings, which left furious commuters trapped in traffic jams for hours. The closings began on the first day of school in Fort Lee.

In another message sent amid the gridlock, an unidentified author wrote: "Is it wrong that I'm smiling," and Wildstein responded: "No."

TOUGH TALKING GOVERNOR

Chairman of the Republican Governors Association and enormously popular, Christie won his second term by a landslide in November, garnering votes from all sides of the political spectrum.

But some question how far his blunt, tough-talking "Jersey" posturing will take him on the national stage. Christie is known for engaging in shouting matches, hurling insults and belittling challengers.

In one not-untypical response, when asked earlier if he knew about the lane closings, Christie sarcastically replied that he personally had put out the traffic cones.

Matthew Hale, an associate professor of political science at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, said the growing scandal deals a huge blow to Christie's political aspirations.

"The smoking gun is not quite in the governor's hand, but these e-mails show that it is awfully close to it," Hale said.

"Governor Christie has spent an enormous amount of effort trying to get away from the narrative that he is a bully," he said. "These emails destroy all of that effort in a single day."

Christie, who had canceled his only public event on Wednesday after the emails were made public, said the email exchanges were "not representative of me or my administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions."

Sokolich, said on CNN he was starting to doubt that Christie had been in the dark about the closings.

"As things begin to unravel with emails, the actions of counterparts, resignations, engagement of defense council, that position becomes more and more difficult to understand, more and more difficult to comprehend and, quite frankly, more and more difficult to believe," he said.

"I'm actually rooting that the highest elected official in the state of New Jersey isn't involved in this, but I will tell you I'm beginning to question my judgment," he added.

The emails were supplied to the media by Wildstein, the Port Authority executive, in response to a subpoena issued by a panel of state lawmakers.

A long-time Christie ally, Wildstein previously has admitted ordering the lane closures and resigned in December. He was due to testify before the panel on Thursday.

In the state capital of Trenton, Deputy Assembly Speaker John Wisniewski, a Democrat, said the emails showed "government at its worst."

"Among other things, they call into serious question the honesty of this governor and his staff. As a result of what has been revealed today, this governor has a lot of explaining to do," Wisniewski said.

Christie often touts his willingness to work with opponents as well as allies - a stance seen as a way of positioning himself as a national candidate able to close bitter partisan divides and win the White House.

A former prosecutor, he was highly visible working with Democratic U.S. Senator Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, and he notably praised President Barack Obama in 2012 for his response to New Jersey's needs after Superstorm Sandy.

Copies of the emails, many of them on private accounts, were obtained and published by the Bergen Record, The New York Times and other media.
Reuters, Los Angeles Times

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