Did Bridgegate cause bi-partisan gridlock in Trenton?
While the state's GOP leader blames the Bridgegate scandal for the "political gridlock" in Trenton, New Jersey's top Democrat believes bipartisanship suffered a breakdown due to Gov. Chris Christie's actions regarding the public workers pension fund.
From a 2 percent cap on property tax increases to public employees' pension and health benefits reform, the leading Republican in the Assembly said much was accomplished through bipartisanship in Gov. Chris Christie's first term and the first year of his second. Partisan politics now rules the day, said Assembly GOP Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and he blames a scandal to which Christie was never directly linked. The top Democrat in the Assembly disagrees with Bramnick.
"Up until the allegations of Bridgegate there was incredible work between the governor and members of the legislature," Bramnick said. "Then it became political. Then it became gridlock in Trenton."
In September of 2013, access lanes in Fort Lee leading to the George Washington Bridge were closed without warning for days. It led to massive traffic tie-ups on the first day of school for many, and also on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
One former Christie ally has already pleaded guilty for orchestrating the closures as political payback to Fort Lee's mayor for refusing to endorse Christie's reelection bid. Two other longtime Christie confidantes were indicted, but maintain their innocence. An internal probe cleared the governor of any wrongdoing.
"They (Democrats) were afraid not to work with him," Bramnick said. "The allegations of Bridgegate, the constant, relentless media attacks on him, I think that gave them an out."
The Assembly majority leader said he could not disagree with Bramnick more. The scandal had nothing to do with the breakdown in bipartisanship, he insisted.
"The real blow to bipartisanship was the governor's failure to honor the hallmark of his administration and the true bipartisan effort around pension reform and when he broke his promise on making the payments it makes it very difficult to negotiate with him going forward and having a trust factor that he is going to follow through on his commitments," said Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees).
Republican legislators are to blame as well, Greenwald said, because they failed to back Democrats in their efforts to force Christie to make the full payments into the public employees' pension system, as required by a law he signed.
"Bridgegate broke the trust of the public with the governor and the Republican Party," Greenwald said. "We have an obligation as elected officials to work with him."