The key to the Chris Christie lane closure scandal may revolve around — surprise, surprise — money, not votes.
A billion-dollar commercial and residential project called Harbor Lights is supposed to be built on land near the George Washington Bridge, with quick and easy access to New York via those three lanes from Fort Lee. Of course, if access is cut back, the project loses it appeal and becomes much less valuable. At the time when the lane closures were ordered last August, the designs and zoning had been done for the project. You know what hadn’t been done? The financing. So anything that scared off investors — like three lanes down to one and people sitting in hours of traffic — would threaten whether Harbor Lights would actually see the light of day.
Talking Points Memo is doing some excellent reporting on this, including a piece by Brian Murphy (who used to work for fired Port Authority guy David Wildstein), expanding on what Murphy said on Steve Kornacki’s show on MSNBC. Kornacki also once worked for Wildstein. Both men know Jersey politics intimately. From Murphy’s story:
“We now know that a major redevelopment project, one that depends on Port Authority assets and relationships, was put in jeopardy at a vulnerable financial moment, and in a way that put the viability of the entire project at risk.
“But we still don’t know why. This batch of subpoenaed documents isn’t going to tell us, and the people who know – who really know – either aren’t talking or haven’t yet been questioned.”
There’s so much more to come out, we’re just at the beginning of this story. I think it will expose who was going to get what out of the project — and who thought they weren’t getting enough. Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich has been trying to keep things quiet and make the story go away. His strange response has made me suspicious of him from the get-go, as if he was not just a victim of Christie’s hardball tactics, but a player with stuff to hide. He seems desperate not to upset the apple cart.
The real scandal here is probably a bi-partisan one about bribes and kickbacks and payoffs that will take down both Republicans and Dems in the end. It doesn’t seem to be a partisan GOP plot to punish a Dem who wouldn’t endorse Christie. It’s hard to imagine a billion-dollar project getting done in Jersey without some serious skimming.