Bill Baroni, former NJ state senator, David Wildstein’s boss and Gov. Christie’s highest-level political appointee at the bi-state Port Authority, has resigned. The second of Christie’s men to fall on his sword, with David Wildstein – founder of PolitickerNJ as the anonymous “Wally Edge” who chronicled Christie’s glorious rise to power without any disclosure I’m aware of of their lifelong friendship – off the PA payroll as of today.
Christie has just finished a press conference during which most questions revolved around today’s news that Baroni is the latest Christie-connected official out at the Authority. His resignation is effective immediately. Christie’s answers appeared mainly to deal with damage control in the deepening investigation – pursued now by state and national press, legislative subpoena and PA internal investigation – of the sudden, inexplicable September closure of most local lanes in Fort Lee off the GWB, just two weeks after the Fort Lee Democratic mayor was asked to endorse Christie’s re-election and refused to do so. Christie categorically denied any involvement in any political machinations in the lane closures to Fort Lee. It was reported yesterday that Christie phoned Gov. Cuomo and requested he order the internal investigation be pulled back, because Foye was too aggressive. Christie denies asking Cuomo to get Foye to pull back. Cuomo has not yet commented.
Christie presented a scenario that seemed to rely on Baroni’s insistence that a traffic study was the cause for the closures – and not the use of the busiest bridge in the world as some kind of instrument of political retribution and gamesmanship. And that some kind of “mistake” was made, and not a deliberate attempt by political appointees answerable to him to trade motorist and first responder safety for payback against the Fort Lee mayor:
“The fact is that Senator Baroni said when he testified that a mistake was made. They believe that the study needed to be done but they didn’t do it correctly within the protocols of the Port Authority.”
Baroni’s “traffic study” explanation also does not jibe with the way traffic studies have been conducted at GWB in the past, nor what other engineers have said is standard operating procedure. GWB officials at Port Authority testified Monday that Wildstein ordered that nobody – including Fort Lee, motorists, the NY officials, Foye or first responders – be notified about the closures.
Christie tried to put distance between Baroni’s resignation – which came after Democrats called for his ouster – and the investigations. Baroni’s testimony before an Assembly panel Nov. 25 did not go well for him, and the testimony of PA ED Patrick Foye on Monday appeared to contradict Baroni’s statement that the lanes were closed for a traffic study. On Monday Foye testified under oath that he did not believe the explanation Baroni had given the panel. Baroni was paid $289,667 by the Port Authority in 2012. Christie said today he does believe Baroni’s traffic study explanation, saying “I don’t think Sen. Baroni would not tell the truth.”
Document evidence of any “traffic study” has not yet materialized. This week, Assembly Transportation Chair John Wisnieski issued subpoenas for documents to be produced by seven people – including Foye, Baroni and Wildstein.
The governor announced Deborah Gramiccioni will be stepping into Baroni’s position as Deputy Executive Director. Wall Street Journal’s Heather Haddon reports that Gramiccioni is from Livingston, where both Christie and Wildstein are also from.
Christie appeared to relax a little when he got questions from reporters about baseball or football. He didn’t get many of those.