The New Republic on Chris Christie and George Norcross

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The rise of a New Era of Corruption - sophisticated, yes, but all the more dirty for it.
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    The New Republic   POLITICS FEBRUARY 12, 2014 Chris Christie's Entire Career Reeks It's not just the bridge BY   ALEC MACGILLIS @AlecMacGillis  Has there ever been a political reversal of fortune as rapid and as absolute as the one  just experienced by Chris Christie? At warp speed, the governor of New Jersey has gone from the most popular politician in the country to the most embattled; from the Repub licans‟ brightest hope for 2016 to a man with an FBI target on his back. One minute, he was releasing jokey vanity videos starring Alec Baldwin and assorted celebrity pals; the next, he was being ridiculed by his lifelong idol, Bruce Springsteen. Mere weeks ago, Christie was a straight-talking, corruption-busting everyman. Now, he is a liar, a bully, a buffoon.  What is remarkable about this meltdown is that it isn‟t the result of some deep secret that has been exposed to the world, revealing a previously unimagined side to the candidate. Many of the scandals and mini-scandals and scandals-within-scandals that the national media is salivating over have been in full view for years. Even the now-infamous Bridgegate was percolating for months before it exploded into the first major story of the next presidential race. Case in point: Last year, just before Thanksgiving, I traveled to Trenton to see Bill Baroni, Christie‟s top staff appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, get grilled by state legislators about the closure of access lanes to the George  Washington Bridge in September. It was clear that something  fishy was going on. Baroni gave a command performance, defending the closures as part of a traffic study, but more than that, as a matter of justice. Discussing whether Fort Lee deserved three dedicated lanes during rush hour, Baroni demanded, “Is this fair?” His voice actually cracked with emotion. “And if it is not fair, how do you not study it?” But there were only a handful of reporters in the room to witness his melodramatics, and it was six weeks before the national media caught on to the story. Outside New Jersey, at least, it seemed inconceivable that Christie, good-government evangelist, scourge of Soprano State shenanigans, could preside over a piece of payback so outrageous and so petty. (Read More: Chris Christ ie‟s Machine Politics Family Tree ) Now, of course, we know that there was no traffic study and that the lanes were deliberately shut to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, who had declined to endorse Christie for reelection. (“Is it wrong that I‟m smiling,” crow  ed a Christie aide in a text message,  even as congestion got so dire that ambulance workers were forced to respond to an emergency on foot.) We also know that this act of retribution wasn‟t an isolated incident: The mayor of Hoboken, to name just one examp le, has claimed that Christie‟s office pressured her to approve a big development project represented by a Christie crony  — or risk losing recovery aid for damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.  And yet, even post-Bridgegate, the prevailing interpretations of Christie fundamentally miss the mark. He has been so singularly successful at constructing his own mythology  — as a reformer, a crusader, a bipartisan problem-solver — that people have never really seen him clearly. Over the past three months, I talked to more than 50 people who have crossed paths with Christie throughout his career — legislators, officials, Democrats, Republicans, lawyers, longtime New Jersey politicos. (Christie himself didn‟t respond to a detailed request for comment.) The problem with Christie isn‟t merely that he is a bully. It‟s that his political career is built on a rotten foundation. Christie owes his rise to some of the most toxic forces in his state — powerful bosses who ensure that his vow to clean up New Jersey will never come to pass. He has allowed them to escape scrutiny, rewarded them for their support, and punished their enemies.  All along, even as it looked like Christie was attacking the machine, he was really just mastering it.   Photo Illustration by Jacqueline Mellow  WOKE UP THIS MORNING AND ALL THAT LOVE HAD GONE   To understand Chris Christie, first you have to understand that he was raised to never give an inch. He grew up in the North Jersey suburb of Livingston, to parents descended from big Newark clans — Sicilian for his mother, Sandy; Irish-German for his father, Bill. The strength of their marriage was exceeded only by the strength of their opinions. They argued constantly  — about money, about politics, about pretty much everything. Chris, the oldest child, was the family mediator — reassuring his younger brother, Todd, and adopted sister, Dawn, or barging into the fray to take his mother‟s side. Not that Sandy needed any help. Funny, relentless, and willing to punctuate her point with a raised middle finger, she got her way more often than not. “They demanded a lot out of us,” Todd Christie told his brother‟s biographers, Bob Ingle and Michael Symons.   Anthony Hope, the baseball coach at Livingston High School, told me about a game  when Chris got picked off third base, costing his team the win. That night, all the kids headed to the town‟s big Battle of the Bands, except Chris. Hope, who was chaperoning, inquired where he was. He‟d been grounded—  because of the game. ( Read More: Chris Christie‟s Bullying Map of New Jersey  ) The Christie brothers were close, but very different. Todd was a bro in the making —“an outgoing, happy-go- lucky type,” says Hope. Chris was the serious one, the type of kid  who started running for office long before his first keg party. He was known for introducing himself to other kids on the playground as if he were a first-time candidate at the Iowa State Fair. (“Hi, I‟m Chris Christie.”) By the third grade, he was piping up at PTA meetings to give his opinions on field trips and fund-raisers. Whenever the neighborhood boys played cowboys and Indians, Todd once reminisced, Chris always opted to be the sheriff. At the age of 14, at Sandy‟s urging, he knocked on the front door of the local assemblyman, Tom Kean, and asked for advice on how to get elected.
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