We have all heard the phrase, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Likewise, political scandal is in the eye of the beholder – its perception greatly depends on one’s party affiliation. Grabbing the headlines of newspapers, we hear about them, but they are often accompanied by the predictions of various analysts. It is essential to strip these scandals of biases and understand the facts.
For months, commentators have been looking forward to the 2016 presidential election and one of the names they throw regularly into the ring of potential candidates is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. In December 2013, details arose that the lanes closed on the George Washington Bridge appear to have been political payback. A few weeks before, Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee had not endorsed Christie in his bid for reelection. As a result, top Christie aids have been fired, including Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, whose email about “traffic in Fort Lee” has been central to these allegations.
Governor Christie has said that he learned of the lane closures through press reports in October of 2013, but later he amended this date to September. He said that he heard that the lanes were closed for a traffic study and the closings were not politically motivated.
On Fri. Jan. 31, David Wildstein, a Port Authority official (and former Christie high school classmate) who resigned after the scandal, claimed evidence exists which can link the New Jersey Governor to the closure of lanes on the G.W. Bridge. However, there were no specifications on what this evidence may be. Since this accusation, Christie has rebutted this with an email to his supporters saying, “Bottom line – David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein.”
Meanwhile, Lt. Governor of New Jersey Kim Guadagno, is facing allegations from Mayor Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken. Supposedly, Guadagno told Zimmer that Hoboken’s Superstorm Sandy relief money depended on her support of the redevelopment program that Christie endorsed. Some have questioned why Zimmer has waited to come forward with these allegations and the validity of her daily journal, which she has put forth as evidence of this political coercion.
Mayor Zimmer’s case is further complicated by the current lawsuit she is facing from Carmelo Garcia, the director of the local housing authority. Garcia alleges that Zimmer threatened to fire him unless he awarded construction agreements to the contractors of her choice. Tapes have been released that document a conversation between Garcia and Zimmer’s husband, Stanley Grossbard. In this exchange, Grossbard can be heard emphasizing the importance of Zimmer’s input into the plans for city development. Some suggest that the tapes have been released in political retaliation for Mayor Zimmer and her charges against Guadagno’s office.
A final facet to the New Jersey scandals is the full-scale investigation into the state’s use of federal funds after Superstorm Sandy. New Jersey Democratic Representative Frank Pallone initiated this probe when he asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development inspector general to look into how the allotted marketing money was spent. The winning advertisement proposal cost 4.7 million dollars and featured Christie with his family, while the losing 2.5 million dollars bid did not.
Clearly, the following weeks and months will bring both clarification and confusion to the several ongoing New Jersey cases and investigations. While political careers may be permanently damaged, the citizens of New Jersey deserve to know to what extent corruption has dictated the decisions made by their leaders.
Though major news companies predominantly focus on national politics, scandal is certainly not limited to the fifty states. Currently, Canada has been embroiled in the continued missteps of Toronto mayor Rob Ford. In November 2013, Ford shocked the media with his confession to smoking crack-cocaine. After this incident, Ford was stripped of his mayoral powers, but he has not resigned from office. In fact, in January of this year, he announced that he would be running for reelection.
Additional scandals for the Toronto mayor feature a video of him speaking and swearing in a Jamaican patois accent and a ticket he received for jaywalking in Vancouver.
If anything, the past few months have reinforced the fact that elected officials are human. Opinions about their character are subjective, but the plain details of their actions are objective. What the aftermath will hold for each of these politicians will vary greatly on the public’s political stance – for scandal is in the eye of the voter.