Snoozing At The Snark Station Chris Christie Crew Hurts David Wildstein Less Than Their Boss
Michael Matthew Bloomer, February, 5, 2014
Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier.
Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter.
And ruining Regina George’s life definitely didn’t make me any happier.
All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.
Mean Girls, SNL Studios, 2004
Should Chris Christie’s recent troubles end with a whimper rather than in a bang he might re-emerge as a 2016 contender for the GOP presidential nomination. If he survives, unless he finds a better team to guide him, his run for the nomination will not only be hotly contested by Tea Party fanatics, but also will be hamstrung from within by poor staff work as well. General staff ineptness hampered Mitt Romney in 2012, as did Mitt Romney being Mitt Romney, of course.
Presently at the center of the Bridgegate scandal, David Wildstein, Chris Christie’s former muscle man at the Port Authority (and a man without a clear job description other than “$150,020/yr.”) has clothed himself like an Abrams tank in the 5th Amendment. Clearly, he seeks immunity from prosecution of any and all varieties, and has been as explicit as he can about it short of wearing a “Got Immunity” sign. He might escape prosecution, but he can’t escape persecution of any and all varieties. And lately the Christie camp upped the ante with its January 31st email purportedly from the Governor himself to his “family and friends.”
Governor Christie’s Mean Girls. This latest scene in the ongoing Act I of Bridgegate started with Mr. Wildstein’s latest cris de couer, penned on his behalf by his lawyer, and delivered to the Port Authority on the Friday before the New Jersey sited Super Bowl. They designed this to implicitly embarrass Governor Christie, and to explicitly convince Port Authority officials to cover Wildstein’s legal fees related to the various investigations of his activities. In its most memorable section Wildstein asserted in boldly passive voice that:
“evidence exists … tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly.”
Also, the letter maintained that Wildstein can prove the “inaccuracy” of some of Governor Christie’s statements about him.
The letter stung, and a response was quickly cobbled together as an email to the Guv’s “friends and family.” Most likely the cobbling was exclusively by his remaining staff (although the email went out under Christie’s name). It was a counter-attack to injure David Wildstein’s reputation, hoping to blunt any testimony he may eventually give to the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s office should they meet his immunity demands. Also, with immunity in hand, he would likely testify before the NJ legislative committee looking into Bridgegate matters. Without immunity Wildstein has replied to all inquiries with a blunt stare reminiscent of the effects of a Haldol overdose with a bourbon chaser.
The Governor’s email, titled like an AlterNet story: “5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That’s Not A Bombshell,” reiterated Christie’s innocence in the Bridgegate affair and called out the New York Times for “sloppy reporting” about the letter from Wildstein’s lawyer. The 4th of the “5 things you need to know” threw poor Mr. Wildstein not only under the bus but under the road itself.
And here’s where Christie’s mean girls (and guys) enter the fray. Like “The Plastics,” that nasty group of high school girls in 2004’s Mean Girls, Christie’s team pulled out their own Burn Book and opened the David Wildstein chapter. Here’s what they found and used in the email to the Guv’s “friends and family” (with my comments):
“In David Wildstein’s past, people and newspaper accounts have described him as ‘tumultuous’ and someone who ‘made moves that were not productive'”
If Christie’s staff was trying to discredit Wildstein, it’s hard to imagine a weaker opener. “Tumultuous” is not a death-star moniker in the least. Most of Christie’s own career has been tumultuous. Moreover the charge that Wildstein “made moves that were not productive” is, let’s face it, a thoroughly human attribute, like asserting that he “sometimes ate more ice cream than he should have.”
The worst staff mistake here is that they apparently forgot that their boss is regularly called far worse than tumultuous. “Bully” comes to mind, “vindictive,” unethical,” “uncouth,” and “nasty” too. The list is long. Competent political staff work makes certain that the boss has clean hands in the temperament category before similarly attacking another. Here, Christie’s own poor behavior far exceeds Wildstein’s, and, let’s face it, the public knows it to a near certainty. And here’s the obvious kicker: the Governor’s handling of the GW Bridge lane closures at best epitomizes “moves that were not productive,” and he continues in that direction. Bad staff, no martinis.
• “As a 16-year-old kid, he sued over a local school board election.”
Epitomizing poor staff work, this charge is simply untrue. That it appears in so important a document as (purportedly) Chris Christie’s personal plea of not guilty is Mitt Romney-like in its ineptness. Accidents, of course, happen, but here the entire email is stuffed to the gills with inaccuracies and less than serious allegations.
Here’s what really happened. In 1978, as a 16-year-old high school junior, David Wildstein did indeed sue someone, but it was not the local school board. It was none other than the Essex County GOP Committee. You see, young Mr. Wildstein sought a place on the ballot as a candidate for a seat on the committee, but New Jersey’s election law was silent on age requirements. Although Wildstein met the other requirements in the statute, the Livingston Township Clerk accepted Wildstein’s petitions on only a provisional basis pending her investigation into whether Wildstein’s age was an impediment to his candidacy. Wildstein retained an attorney to present his legal arguments. His efforts were unsuccessful. [See the Times April 28, 1978 story here]
As for the local school board issue, that was quite different. In March 2012, New Jersey’s The Record reported that in 1979, a year after the GOP Committee election, “while he was still in high school, Wildstein ran for the local school board, even though he was not old enough by law to occupy the seat . He generated 37 votes . . .” I, and many others, can find no mention anywhere of Wildstein suing the school board in 1979. (If you can, please do so in the comments section and I’ll correct this posting.)
Finally, the Washington Post reported that high schooler Chris Christie himself carefully considered his father’s suggestion that he sue the school board to prevent a better baseball player (a catcher) from transferring to Livingston High School, a player who would have supplanted Christie as first-string catcher. He decided against suing, though. New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait summarized why,
So Christie decided, after deliberating for a while, not to sue a kid for transferring to his school and being better than him at baseball, on the grounds that the community might not look kindly on that decision.
Remember the “clean hands” rule above? Here was another violation by Christie’s wildly uninformed and seemingly immature staff.
• “He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.”
This charge, related to Wildstein’s candidacy for the school board, is true. Again, however, it’s more smoke than fire. According to The Record (which appears to be the lone source for Christie’s email): “His high school social studies teacher publicly accused Wildstein of duping him into signing an endorsement letter that later appeared in the local newspaper.”
But the sentence immediately following pointed out, “The pair later issued a joint statement calling it ‘basically a misunderstanding.’” [For the full story]
This is an especially cheap shot. While politics is a cheap shot profession, this “charge” against Wildstein is frivolous at best.
• “He had a controversial tenure as Mayor of Livingston”
Yes, Wildstein was a controversial mayor, really controversial. As one Livingston resident recalls,
He was elected young, probably 30 at the most. And he immediately brought a reign of insanity to peaceful Livingston. He practiced a particularly mean-spirited slash and burn style of politics, a combination of Bob Haldeman and Idi Amin. He spread false rumors about people, lied, and tried to ruin reputations of decent people to advance his own career. He is easily the most hated mayor in this town’s history, hands down. [For the entire recollection]
Certainly Wildstein’s reputation, from high school on, bordered on political thug. But why would Christie staff members believe that pointing this out in an email would help their Governor? In the end, Wildstein’s poor performance as mayor was almost certainly a fact that Christie knew when he approved Bill Baroni’s hiring of him to at the Port Authority to a job the Governor had a lively interest in, i.e., cleaning up what Christie viewed as an overstuffed, overstaffed, and overly powerful Port Authority. Staff work like this portion of the email is reminiscent of the charge of the Light Brigade, and exceedingly less inspiring.
“He was an anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge”
Yes, he was. So what? His blog about New Jersey politics was extremely popular among NJ politicos.
“He had a strange habit of registering web addresses for other people’s names without telling them”
Indeed, he did. As horrifying as it may sound to some, this is a standard practice on our internet. It’s certainly not illegal (unless one uses the domain name for illegal purposes). It is snarky. Importantly, if a bit snarkily, political activists purchase domain names (web addresses) in another’s name, for example, to make it impossible for the target – usually of the opposition party – to register the domain for their own purposes. Also, if the target wants to use the name appropriated by, for instance, David Wildstein, he or she would have to buy that domain name from him. WNYC reported:
Many of domain names David Wildstein purchased revolve around New Jersey Democrats. Barbara Buono was New Jersey Governor Christie’s democratic opponent in last month’s gubernatorial race, and Milly Silva was her running mate. Fulop2017.com presumably refers to the current mayor of Jersey City . . . Wildstein also purchased the name of the New Jersey Record reporter who first had the story -Shawn Boburg. Governor Christie’s team is denying any knowledge of the domain name, and Wildstein hasn’t commented. [See full WNYC article here, including a list of domain names purchased by Wildstein]
He took out the domain name for Bob Sommer, who had been among the executives at Mr. Kushner’s company, and whom he believed had been behind the decision to scale back the investment in PoliticsNJ [Wildstein’s former blog, sold to Kushner in 2010], which resulted in most of the staff being laid off. When visitors logged on to BobSommer.com, they were redirected to the Yankees site; Mr. Sommer is a hard-core Mets fan. [Check it out: http://bobsommer.com/]
What Christie staffers believed was a serious charge falls fatally flat.
• Thomas L. Adams, Wildstein’s Council Running Mate: “It Was A Tumultuous Time.” Robert Leopold, Livingston’s former Democratic Mayor: Wildstein Was “A Political Animal” Who “Frightened People.” “He Was A Very Contentious Person.”
These articles do nothing more than make one wonder anew why Governor Christie hired Wildstein if indeed he was such an unsavory character. A general rule:
Staff ought to steer clear of implicitly accusing the boss of what amounts to misfeasance for hiring someone when attempting to smear the very person the boss hired.
• (Shawn Boburg, “Ex-Blogger Is Governor Christie’s Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority,” Bergen Record, 3/3/12) • Wildstein Created “Culture Of Fear” Within Port Authority. “He and others referred to a ‘culture of fear’ within the authority, reflected in testimony from other authority officials about their reluctance to report to Mr. Foye or others what they considered an ‘odd’ request from Mr. Wildstein—to abruptly realign lanes that had been in place for decades and to tell no one about it.” (Ted Mann, “Port Authority Chief Testifies in George Washington Bridge Flap,” The Wall Street Journal, 12/9/13)
Once again, intended to dust-up Wildstein, these articles and quotes fail. In fact, in Wildstein’s halcyon days, Chris Christie’s office directed the Port Authority to employ David Wildstein. CNN reported (and its story has not been refuted):
A former Port Authority employee told CNN that agency officials were told in 2010 they had to find a place for WIldstein at the executive level and the directive was coming from Christie’s office. Soon after, the position was created specifically for Wildstein. When Wildstein started, Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, Christie’s top appointee at the agency, introduced him to people as a good friend of the governor.
And the Christie administration lauded Wildstein’s work at the Port Authority. After complaints arose over Wildstein’s haughty and contentious ways there, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak responded:
“He is there in that job because he is well suited to the task of playing a role in reforming the Port Authority in accordance with the governor’s goals. If he’s not liked for that role, and if he’s accused of being zealous in that regard, then we plead guilty.”
Nevertheless, now, in a crucial email sent under Governor Christie’s name, staff members attempted to rewrite their history with Wildstein by painting him with the angry colors of his opponents. Another rule for staff work:
Don’t try to back away from effusively positive statements like Michael Drewniak’s, who after all, was the Governor’s spokesman at the time, not simply an office intern.
Don’t look back, Mitt Romney might be gaining on you . . . As mentioned at the outset, Mitt Romney’s staff was not up to the task of a presidential contest. Admittedly Romney’s pre- and post-primary personas presented them with a Jekyll and Hyde Romney, two nearly polar opposites. Making sense to voters of this often vastly – and swiftly – changeable Mitt Romney (recall Etch-A-Sketch) was a Herculean task. But they often made unforced errors. Chris Christie has a similar problem to overcome if he is to push forward his 2016 plans once the Bridgegate and Sandy relief money controversies settle, if, indeed, they do.