Tough guy turns tail

Tough guy turns tail

How did our politics ever get so rotten?

Federal prosecutors in New Jersey this week wrapped up a bizarre political corruption case that represents Exhibit A for the proposition that our public servants can sometimes be serious enemies of the people they purport to serve.

It's not only instructive to ordinary people, who should be forever skeptical of those in official positions, but also to those who hold positions of public trust, whether elected or appointed.

Most people outside of New Jersey have never heard of 55-year-old David Wildstein, a former topsider in the administration of Gov. Chris Christie. Many people have heard of the so-called "Bridgegate" scandal in 2013.

Wildstein was the mastermind of that despicable, moronic, pointless political dirty trick.

Here, in essence, is what it was about.

Christie, who was running for re-election and considered a shoe-in, sought the re-election endorsement of Fort Lee's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, a request that Sokolich rejected. As a consequence, Wildstein conceived a plan for political payback.

This is the tough-guy brand of politics that's sometimes practiced in Illinois. Those who don't go along with the program — in this case a Democratic refusing to endorse a Republican — are targeted for punishment. Politicians and the many sycophants they surround themselves with love to think of themselves as tough guys and gals, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel being the best example in Illinois.

As a general proposition, however, they're only tough when they have the power. When things go south — like when FBI agents come knocking on the door — they're among the first to run for cover.

Wildstein, then a high-ranking official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, conceived a plan — as mean-spirited as it was mindless — to close access lanes near the George Washington Bridge, causing traffic to back up and regular Joes and Janes to be caught in snarls that wasted their time and taxed their patience.

Wildstein's underlings, caught up in the venal exercise of abusing power for a pointless reason, happily joined the effort.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," read one internal email.

This was petty tyranny. Fortunately, the internal machinations inside the port authority, which operates the bridge, somehow became public and generated considerable publicity. (Thank God for whistle blowers and a vigilant news media.)

As quick as one could say "time for some traffic problems," federal prosecutors were looking into possible violations of law by Wildstein and his band of merry pranksters.

What happened next is so typical of these kind of investigations. It was routine when federal prosecutors in Chicago were conducting in-depth probes of the administrations of former governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.

Wildstein — Mr. Tough Guy — ran to the feds with an offer to rat out everyone to save himself. The feds accepted the deal.

Wildstein's testimony was crucial to convicting two of his associates, former Christie aide Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, the port authority's deputy director. They were sentenced to prison.

As a reward for his cooperation with the investigation, Wildstein was sentenced this week to probation and ordered to pay $20,000 in fines and restitution and perform 500 hours of community service work.

Wildstein testified that he told Gov. Christie what he did. But federal prosecutors couldn't corroborate Wildstein's statement and didn't find him trustworthy enough to charge Christie.

Needless to say, Christie's reputation suffered grievously because of Bridgegate, as it should have.

The top man sets the tone, and Wildstein described the atmosphere in the Christie administration as obsessed with power and revenge.

Fortunately, he and his co-conspirators were undone by their hubris and mendacity.

There's a lesson here if the political class will take some time to consider it.

Many people enter politics with the goal of making things better. It's amazing how quickly some of them embrace the kind of self-promoting nastiness and intimidation on display in New Jersey and routinely practiced in Illinois.

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MahometMatt wrote on July 14, 2017 at 9:07 pm

The term is "shoo-in," not "shoe-in," as was written in this column.

johnny wrote on July 15, 2017 at 10:07 pm

Thank you!  They should hire you.

billbtri5 wrote on July 15, 2017 at 8:07 am

...just a shout out to anyone considering running for office...."endorsements" don't mean anything to me as a voter and I speculate there are many others that make their own choices as well...