New Jersey governors wield more power than most, if not all, of their counterparts across the nation. And perhaps no one has used that power as masterfully as Gov. Chris Christie.
Already lauded for a string of political corruption convictions when he was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Christie has shown the same no-holds-barred style beneath the golden dome of the Statehouse. He took on difficult issues and went after sacred cows. The tougher he talked, the more New Jersey liked him. He won a second term in a landslide, bolstering his presidential aspirations.
But everything changed abruptly on Jan. 8, 2014, less than two weeks before he was sworn in for a second term. That’s when the now famous memo, penned by a top Christie aide, became public: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
The ensuing scandal — in which at least one Christie aide and two of his appointees allegedly orchestrated a massive traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to punish a local mayor who had refused to endorse the governor’s re-election — would become known as “Bridgegate.”
One of those appointees pleaded guilty. The two others await trial. Christie himself appears to have avoided charges, but the federal investigation has expanded to other matters. (Most recently, the probe felled United Airlines’ chief executive Jeff Smisek, who resigned in September as investigators looked into whether the airline reinstated a money-losing route to curry favor with David Samson, who Christie appointed as chairman of the Port Authority; the authority controls both Newark Airport and the George Washington Bridge. Samson resigned and the U.S. attorney for New Jersey is investigating the matter, but no charges have been filed.)
Bridgegate is perhaps the most brazen of a series of controversies, including lavish all-expense-paid trips and an ongoing battle with the press over public records, that have engulfed the Christie administration in recent years.
All of this has contributed to the state earning an overall score of 65, or a grade of D, in the State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven analysis of state government accountability and transparency conducted by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity. The report also found in New Jersey a significant “enforcement gap,” which measures the difference between the laws on the books and how they're actually implemented.