New Jersey officials stayed pointedly mum on bridge closures

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie began talking about the bridge scandal that is dogging him and his administration on Thursday, he did not stop for an hour and a half. But in the weeks following the so-called traffic study that closed several lanes on the busy George Washington Bridge during rush hour in September, those involved were staying mum.

Emails released Friday show repeated requests from reporters for more information on the traffic study — copies of the traffic study, background on the study, comments and various emails between politicians. Several FOIAs were filed for the information. Ted Mann, a transportation reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and John Cichowski of the Bergen Record were particularly persistent.

Those requests were not answered. A constant refrain running through the more than 900 pages of emails is Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman writing, “I will not respond unless instructed otherwise,” after forwarding those information requests.

In one such case, regarding a request from PolitickerNJ, Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director of the Port Authority, wrote back to Coleman: “no response.”

On Oct. 9, in response to an email of clips related to the Port Authority, two of which made scathing references to the bridge closures, Phillipe Danielides, senior adviser to the port authority’s chairman, emailed David Wildstein: “Has any thought been given to writing an op-ed or providing a statement about the GWB study? Or is the plan just to hunker down and grit our way through it?”

“Yes and yes,” Wildstein responded.

Even in internal emails, New Jersey officials made a point of staying off the record on the subject of the bridge closures.

Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority, who was appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, wrote a letter to officials condemning the closures, of which he had not been made aware. He declared himself “appalled” by the “abusive decision,” and said it impinged on the credibility of the agency.

After he was informed that the closed lanes had been reopened, he emailed several people saying he would set up a meeting and asking “how do we get the word out?”

Baroni stepped in at that point to control the communications. “Pat we need to discuss prior to any communications,” he emailed.

“Bill we are going to fix this fiasco,” Foye responsed.

“I am on my way to office to discuss,” Baroni replied. “There can be no public discourse.”

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Alexis Levinson