The Bully Test

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By Michael Scherer,

from TIME Magazine,

On Bridgegate, new probes may try Christie’s claim to fair play

“Politics Ain’t Beanbag,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced on Jan. 9 after it became clear that a member of his senior staff had helped arrange a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge, apparently to punish a political foe. Then he made another claim: “I am not a bully.”

For Christie, there is a vast difference between the two approaches. Causing a traffic jam to inflict political pain falls into the latter category, he says, the one he condemns.

But what of the more routine retribution, the sort that happens all the time in statehouses around the country and for which Christie has long been known in New Jersey?

The mayor of Jersey City, Steven Fulop, has complained that meetings with Christie’s office on other matters were suddenly canceled without explanation after he failed to offer an endorsement of the governor’s re-election. (Indeed, Fulop was name-dropped as a target for retribution in the subpoenaed bridge-closing emails.) Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, a Christie political foe, says he believes the governor’s decision to shutter the local DMV office was punishment. And Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer has speculated that the state’s decision not to award requested Hurricane Sandy recovery grants to her city could have been tied to her failure to endorse the governor. “Most people won’t talk about it because they think he is going to get through this and retribution could be coming,” says Bollwage about the governor.

former state prosecutor, Ben Barlyn, is also moving forward with a lawsuit that accuses Christie appointees of illegally throwing out a grand jury indictment of local sheriffs who supported the Christie campaign.

Christie’s office has been busy churning out sweeping denials to these claims, but they may not have the last word. In addition to the ongoing court case, there is a new federal criminal investigation and two freshly empaneled legislative committees, armed with subpoena power, looking into the backup at the George Washington Bridge. If a pattern emerges, Christie’s no-beanbag style, long championed by his supporters as a breath of fresh air, could become his liability.

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