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Bullying On The George Washington Bridge

GWB from Wash Heights 2008 09. Photo Credit: Dave Zornowby Frank LoBuono

Fort Lee, my beloved home town, is once again in the national spotlight. We have not had this much attention since Gilda Radner’s famous SNL character, Roseanne Rosanna-Danna’s, “a Mr. Richard Feder of Fort Lee, New Jersey. . . ,” routine! But this time, it’s not really funny at all.

It seems certain staff members of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie manipulated closure, without warning, of the George Washington Bridge’s (GWB) Fort Lee toll access, as well as a number of lanes of the GWB itself. Despite efforts by Fort Lee officials, including it’s mayor, Mark Sokolich, to find out why this was happening, no explanation was given. E-mails and other documents discovered after the incident, suggest that the closure was politically motivated as punishment for Mr. Sokolich’s, a Democrat, failure to endorse Mr. Christie in his campaign for governor.

Now, Fawt Lee (as we natives will more than relate to as the REAL pronunciation for the town) is dominated by That Bridge. The high school nome de guerre is The Bridgemen (try making a mascot out of that!). The GWB is the centerpiece of the town’s Great Seal. It brags at being the busiest bridge in the world. This, for natives is a source of pride. But, with that can also come very difficult conditions. So, when the GWB is screwed up, the town is screwed up. Traffic can back up for miles when there is an issue on the GWB. Therefore, people looking for alternatives, and those from the town itself looking for access to the GWB, are caught in a mind- f’n’, never ending, evil serpent of bright red tail lights. I have been personally trapped in that traffic vortex on more occasions than I care to remember. Still do. In a word; AWFUL.

And it’s not just an inconvenience. There are real ramifications and lost revenue. People can’t get to work. Kids can’t get to school. Businesses can’t conduct business. And, worst of all, emergency vehicles cannot pass through. So, it’s a BIG deal.

Of course, in recent days/hours, Governor Christie has gone into damage control mode and expressed disbelief, shock, surprise, and righteous indignation at those responsible. Heads were going to roll. And they did. As of this writing, four of his top aides most responsible for this situation have been fired. More floggings may come. But this leaves many people wondering, is he firing ALL of those responsible? How much of this did he actually know was going on and why did he take so long to act upon it? And, if the buck stops with him, shouldn’t he be, in a sense, firing himself?

We may never get these questions answered with complete accuracy. Without actually being there, or without the necessary documentation, it may be difficult to pin the governor with direct culpability here. But I’m not sure that we have to – at least not directly. It is reasonable, however, in such situations to “connect the dots.” Let’s try. One of the keys to Governor Christie’s success, pundits claim, may also be his biggest detraction. He has a “hands-on” style of management. He has a dominating presence. As he is lampooned by many comedic sources, like SNL, he is almost a Sopranoesque character, i.e. prototypical New Jersey, or New Joisey. Fuggetaboutit! Some find it amusing if not downright endearing. However, most New Jersians that I speak to do not. Interestingly, and this is what makes people believe he may be right for National office, the people NOT from New Jersey actually love him. One way or the other, it may not be inaccurate to also use this word to describe him – BULLY.

You don’t have to look hard to find footage of him dressing down a reporter, or, worse, a teacher or citizen who had the audacity to question his judgement or authority. I have a very reliable source from New Jersey who tells me how he threatened a 76 year-old woman candidate who opposed him on some issues, telling reporters that, “someone should take a baseball bat to her.” Really? Yes, it is entirely reasonable to call him a bully. Now, there are some who would say that it is this “honest, take no prisoners” style that makes him effective, i.e. the type of leadership we need to straighten out the country. Unfortunately, I, and others, do not agree. It’s been said that, from time to time, I have issues with authority. Well, that’s not quite accurate. I have issues with BULLIES who see themselves as authority figures. I have no problem following the directions of someone that I can respect. This is no different.

So, if we continue to connect our dots, it is not difficult to connect the last one to the governor. Whether he authorized this travesty or not, by his position, by his very attitude, the BUCK MUST STOP WITH HIM. In other words, don’t be surprised when you get what you paid for. If it smells like a bully, then it must be a bully. A coach’s team reflects the personality of its coach.

Now, in the final analysis, this may not be, as some are saying, Christie’s Bridgemaggedon. He may still come out smelling like a rose – poor, little governor, deceived by his moronic staff! But look at him now, coming forward, all contrite and shit (Jersey speak). There is one thing certain; the man is no fool – look at how he played Sandy.

In the final analysis, I think that it is important not to get hung up on specifics in this case. In other words, although important, it’s not essential to know if the governor was directly involved or not. Because he was. By his very ethos, one motivated by intimidation, he has fostered a climate of fear in opponents AND subordinates alike. But this is a good thing because it gives us a clear-cut choice should Mr. Christie actually decide to run for national office. Do you want Tony Soprano running the Country or not?

Frank LoBuono has lived in Nyack for over 30 years writing and covering Rockland County in print, on TV and online. He works as a cameraman and an editor for a major TV News organization. You can read his blog at

Photo Credit: ©2014 Dave Zornow

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