Former Christie Aide Recalls Efforts to Win Over Fort Lee’s Mayor

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 29: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at a press conference announcing new objectives to crack down on human and sex trafficking throughout the state of New Jersey, inspired in part by the upcoming Super Bowl, on January 29, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Christie Spoke along side New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman and Cindy McCain, wife of Arizona Senator John McCain. The Super Bowl will be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, this Sunday, February 2, 2014. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Photo: Andrew Burton/2014 Getty Images

During his marathon press conference back in January, Chris Christie claimed that the George Washington Bridge lane closures couldn’t be an act of political retribution, since Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich wasn’t even on his “radar screen.” That may be true for the governor, but his staff was definitely keeping tabs on Fort Lee’s mayor. Former Christie aide Matt Mowers testified on Tuesday that the administration had been trying to win Sokolich’s endorsement for at least a year and a half. In August, Bridget Kelly, then the governor’s deputy chief of staff, even phoned Mowers to ask if there was any hope of winning Sokolich over. Mowers says he replied, “No, he’s definitely not endorsing.” The next day, Kelly sent her infamous “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email. 

Mowers, who is now the executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party, testified for seven hours before the New Jersey Legislative Select Committee on Investigation, describing the aggressive efforts by Christie’s 2013 reelection campaign to win endorsements from Democratic leaders, in an effort to highlight his bipartisan appeal. The New York Times reports that Fort Lee was 47 on a list of the top 100 towns being targeted by the administration.

According to Mowers, staffers filed frequent memos on their meetings and phone calls with officials in those towns, and recorded how likely they were to endorse Christie. Mowers was tasked with courting mayors in northern New Jersey, and he became Sokolich’s main contact, meeting him for drinks and meals. Eventually, the mayor said he couldn’t endorse Christie, and Mowers passed on the information to top members of the administration.

Mowers said he didn’t learn of the lane closures until a month after they happened, and didn’t think anything of Kelly’s questions about Sokolich. “I sit here dumbfounded and disappointed that the actions seemingly taken by a few rogue individuals have tainted the good work that so many have done on behalf of the residents of New Jersey,” Mowers said.

Ex-Christie Aide Recalls Wooing Fort Lee’s Mayor