Politics and Traffic in the Garden State

In the 23 years I’ve been living in Hoboken, NJ, every second mayor has gone to jail.  The first was Anthony Russo, who took bribes for everything from pothole repairs to liquor licenses, although the latter were more a specialty of his wife, Michelle, who ran the town’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.  When Russo was indicted then US Attorney Chris Christie proudly called him number 30 on the ‘hit parade’ of New Jersey politicians indicted for corruption since he took office.  Around the same time the Mayor of Guttenberg went to jail for extortion and Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski for a variety of payoffs.  One clean mayor later Peter Cammarano, the 37th Mayor of Hoboken, was arrested by the FBI as part of a major political corruption and international money laundering probe called Operation Big Rig.  After only 22 days in office Cammarano accepted a $25,000 bribe in the parking lot of the local Malibu Diner in exchange for favors with regards to construction permits.  The judgment of Hoboken residents was harsh: Cammarano had made us look bad twice, first for being on the take and then for asking only $25,000.

If the public opinion about Cammarano suggests a certain tolerance for political corruption in New Jersey, with traffic it’s a different story.  During the morning and evening rush hours highways and roads in the New Jersey part of the metropolitan New York area are totally congested.   Unless automobilists get into the city before daylight and out late at night they may easily stand still or find themselves in stop-and-go traffic for hours before entering the Holland or Lincoln Tunnel or crossing the George Washington Bridge.  Two of the three Staten Island bridges belong in the Smithsonian, and sometimes it can take half a day to get from the west to the east coast of the island via the ‘Expressway.’  Just before 9/11 I started in a job that required a daily commute away from the city, and in the morning I was amazed to see the endless line of cars standing still on the Turnpike Extension in the opposite direction.  After the attack on the World Trade Center New York City Mayor Bloomberg decided that only car poolers could enter the tunnels, and for about a year the congestion was gone.  On the day after the car pooling requirement was lifted all commuters were back in their own cars and the endless line was back to stay there ever since.

One might have expected that most of the commuters had realized that car pooling is not a bad idea, but the fact that they didn’t indicates to what extent the car is a holy cow in the US, and it explains how badly now Governor Christie’s underlings hurt the feelings of New Jersey commuters when they closed the George Washington Bridge access lanes in Fort Lee.  It is the main reason why Christie’s popularity in the state has plummeted, more than the extremely high property taxes and unemployment rate.  Right now, Chris Christie would not have a chance of being re-elected in New Jersey.

After Friday’s indictments in the Bridgegate affair the U.S. Attorney is not done.  Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly declared that it’s ‘ludicrous’ that she would have been the only one in the Governor’s office who knew about the lane closings, and she might start ‘singing.’  Christie could still be implicated in the abuse of power by former Port Authority Chairman David Samson, his mentor and appointee, or face federal charges for the misallocation of Hurricane Sandy relief money.  And all of this will play out during the Presidential campaign.

It’s hard to see how Christie can still run for the White House, but so far all signs indicate that he will.  His wife has quit her Wall Street job, and the Governor is making the necessary appearances in Iowa and New Hampshire.  He knows that if he doesn’t run his political career is over, which is hard to accept for any politician, and he shares the fate that he won’t be President with most, if not all, other Republican candidates.   But it will be fun to keep him around for a while, if only for the way he’ll bark at his rivals and antagonize audiences as his unrealistic quest gets more desperate.

Hugo Kijne


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