On Wednesday, a series of leaked emails and text messages revealed that a top aide in Chris Christie‘s office conspired with David Wildstein of the Port Authority to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge this past September.
The apparent goal of the closures was to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, for refusing to support Christie’s re-election effort, by creating traffic problems for his town. Although an alternative theory has emerged, involving a dispute between Christie and Jersey Democrats over the state Supreme Court.
Regardless, it appears 41 year-old Bridget Anne Kelly gave the now infamous order, emailing David Wildstein of the Port Authority:
Here’s what we know about this suburban mom turned political enforcer:
1. Christie Claims Kelly Betrayed Him, Lied About Lane Closings
In a nationally broadcast morning press conference, Governor Christie lay responsibility for the lane closures on Bridget Kelly, announcing:
“This morning I’ve terminated the employment of Bridget Kelly, effective immediately. I’ve terminated her employment because she lied to me.”
He went on to say that he delegates a lot of authority to his staff, and that he was heartbroken and betrayed to have had his trust broken. He mentioned that Kelly had lied to him 15 times over the course of the presser’s 100+ minutes. Christie claimed he hadn’t spoken to her since the emails came out, and was not interested in hearing an explanation of her behavior at the moment.
Which seems odd. Why wouldn’t Christie be curious how his top aide came to believe that causing traffic problems in Fort Lee was a good idea? Why wouldn’t he want to know what impression he may have accidentally given to encourage such a scheme? What’s made this famed former prosecutor so incurious?
You can read the full text of the leaked emails here:
2. She Was a Deputy Chief of Staff in Christie’s Administration
According to her official government bio, Kelly served as Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs since April 2013. Prior to that, she was director of that department, where she “oversaw the day-to-day operations of the Christie Administration’s outreach efforts to elected officials at all levels of government, faith-based and community organizations and trade associations.”
The position provided her $140, 000 a year.
The post was formerly occupied by Bill Stepien, Christie’s campaign manager in 2009. MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, a former New Jersey political reporter, described Stepien’s job within the governor’s office as that of “political enforcer in the state…Basically his job was to look around the state and deal with the municipalities, to deal with the mayors, to deal with the councils.”
Kelly first entered New Jersey state politics as a legislative aide to Assemblyman David C. Russo (R- Bergen, Essex, Passaic & Morris), becoming his Chief of Staff in 2002. Kelly gave $1,000 to Russo’s failed campaign for Congress in 2001.
Wildstein, who has a long and strange political past, is at the center of Chris Christie's bridge-traffic scandal.Click here to read more
3. Friends Describe Her as a Good, Hardworking Mom
The picture above, from Kelly’s now-defunct Twitter account, shows her and the crew in “chicken-leg” hats. Kelly is second from the right.
The Bergen Record published a column on Friday titled Image of former Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly doesn’t fit resume, summarizing the consensus of Kelly’s mystified friends and co-workers, who can’t fathom such recklessness from a “hard-working, conscientious and diligent political staffer, who balanced the needs of four children with a long commute to Trenton and the pressures of working for a governor who was being talked about as a Republican presidential candidate.”
Bridget married Joe Kelly in 1995, and gave birth to two sons and two daughters in the course of the next 10 years.
Her son Connor was born with a heart defect. Kelly wrote a letter to the editor about her son’s condition, published by the Bergen Record in 2005, when Connor was 5 years old:
I want parents to have hope for children with heart disease. It is not automatically a death sentence, and although it is extremely difficult to maintain a positive attitude during such tribulation, it is imperative for the children that parents remain hopeful and optimistic that we have access to the best medical care in the country.
She and her family live in Ramsey, New Jersey, where Bridget grew up. She’s the daughter of Richard Daul, who now directs veterans services in the Bergen Country government.
The Ramsey Dispatch solicited comments from Kelly’s friends on their Facebook page. Supporters called Kelly a “wonderful mother and friend,” praising her “integrity and decorum,” and expressing the belief that she is being scapegoated.
Kelly graduated from the all-girls Immaculate Heart Academy in 1990, and was inducted to the school’s “hall-of-fame” in 2004. She continued her education at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, earning a BA in political science.
A cache of her Twitter account can be found here.
Through her Twitter, Kelly comes across as a normal, cheerful suburban mom, with a sense of humor and idiosyncratic tastes. Among her favorite things: Wine and the soundtrack to the musical “Once,”
“This is not a half glass”:
4. Kelly ‘Suddenly’ Divorced Her Husband in 2011
— K Mastriano (@kmastnj) September 8, 2012
The New York Post’s characterization of Kelly is decidedly less charitable. Which is perhaps not surprising, considering Rupert Murdoch’s relationship with Christie, and his television network’s refusal to cover the scandal at all on its first day.
The Post’s profile opens by describing Kelly as “the conniving Christie aide ousted for orchestrating the George Washington bridge traffic scheme.” A phrasing that asserts Kelly’s sole authorship of the scheme as established fact, rather than as Christie’s claim.
While the profile finds the same confused neighbors featured in the Bergen Record piece, it’s selection of quotes is more pointed, one fellow Ramsey mom saying, “I am just shocked that she could be so petty and reckless.”
However, The Post does include an interesting detail left unmentioned in the Record’s profile: Kelly divorced her husband Joe in 2011. In The Post’s colorful (and journalistically irresponsible) phrasing, “the cutthroat blonde…blind-sided” her husband Joe, when, after 16 years of marriage, she came home one afternoon and “announced she wanted a divorce.”
A source close to the family told The Post that her husband “was a wreck. It was completely out of the blue.”
5. The Lane Closures May Have Killed an Old Woman
The Bergen Record obtained a letter sent by EMS coordinator Paul Favia to Mayor Mark Sokolich on September 10, 2013, noting four instances in which emergency medical services were delayed due to the lane closures. In two instances, response time doubled, including the case of a 91-year-old woman who lay unconscious for seven minutes before paramedics were able to reach her ambulance. Heavy traffic prevented the paramedics from treating the woman on the scene, and she ultimately died of cardiac arrest after reaching the hospital.
Considering the woman’s age, it’s possible that three and a half minutes would not have meant the difference between life and death. Regardless, the case illustrates the grave consequences Kelly’s alleged conspiracy could have wrought.
Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal has thrown mayor Mark Sokolich into the national spotlight. Here's what you need to know about the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey.Click here to read more