This morning, Steve Kornacki offered up a new theory for why Chris Christie’s aides closed two of Fort Lee, New Jersey’s George Washington Bridge access lanes back in September. According to the MSNBC host, the shutdown was about much more than giving Mayor Mark Sokolich a nasty but temporary headache by causing a traffic jam in his town. Instead, Kornacki says that the lane closures may have been part of a long-term scheme to disrupt a project that Sokolich considers the “defining mission” of his tenure.
The project is question is the redevelopment of 16-acre piece of Fort Lee land located at the foot of the George Washington Bridge. Sokolich divided the space, which sat vacant for years, into two parts: The eastern portion is now occupied by two new residential towers that should be finished later this year. The western half is to serve as the site of Hudson Lights, a $218 million mix of residential, commercial, and parking space that, as Kornacki notes, used its proximity to the George Washington Bridge access lanes as a major selling point to potential investors and tenants. Groundbreaking on Hudson Lights was delayed this summer because of financing issues. However, the project’s developers announced that they had finally secured financing on September 16 — three days after New York Port Authority official Pat Foye put a stop to the access lane closures by questioning their legality in an e-mail to his New Jersey counterparts.
Kornacki points out that Sokolich brought up this issue when he sent an angry e-mail to since-departed Christie Port Authority appointee Bill Baroni about the lanes closing without his knowledge. “What do I do when our billion dollar redevelopment is put on line at the end of next year?” he asked. And, when Baroni testified about the closure in November, he asked if it was “fair” for Fort Lee to have three “special lanes” to the George Washington Bridge. Finally, when Christie was first asked about the growing controversy in December, he said, “I didn’t even know Fort Lee got three dedicated lanes until all this stuff happened, and I think we should should review that entire policy…Because I don’t know why one town gets three lanes.” According to Kornacki, this suggests that members of the Christie administration — and possibly Christie himself — were considering permanently closing the lanes — a move that would likely jeopardize the success of Hudson Lights and, possibly, Sokolich’s legacy.
Of course, this doesn’t answer the question of why the Christie administration would have been so determined to mess with Sokolich. As many have pointed out, the idea that the lane closures were retribution Sokolich’s refusal to endorse Christie for re-election sounds ridiculously petty, even for a scandal as strange as this one: In the last few days, Kornacki’s fellow MSNBC host Rachel Maddow theorized that the closures were intended to punish another Fort Lee politician, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. However, Kornacki’s theory does make the actions of Christie’s aides look even more sinister and far-reaching, regardless of whom they were intended to hurt.