It wasn’t long ago when Bill Baroni’s political potential seemed boundless. A prodigy since his college days, the moderate republican from Hamilton, Mercer County quickly scaled the ranks from political operative to Assemblyman to State Senator and finally Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
And he did it all before his 40th birthday.
But he hooked up with the wrong guy, namely Chris Christie, to cook up Bridgegate, a scandalous tale of Chris Christie’s ambitions run amok. Bill became the fall guy for the whole thing and now he’s paying a heavy price.
He reported to federal prison in Pennsylvania last week.
Georgie’s Bar, Dublin, IRELAND, May 2015
I was sitting at the bar watching the Eurovision Song Contest drinking a vodka-soda. The Greek entrant, sultry and showing lots of cleavage, was on screen belting out some trashy pop song.
“Yeeesssssss queeeeeen!!!!!!” someone yells, quite deliriously, as Greek Goddess hits her crescendo.
I knew of Eurovision, the reality show that introduced the world to a very young-looking ABBA back in 1974. But to experience the Eurovision phenomenon in Europe while surrounded by Europeans was was an unforgettable part of an unforgettable trip.
And as the contestant from Georgia took her mark, festooned in black feathers looking like a sexy goth dominatrix crossed with a raven, I knew I was right where I needed to be, safe among my people.
“Bill Baroni is on his way down here,” my friend Trevor told me but I couldn’t hear because we’re at a bar and it’s loud.
“I met a cute Irishman who’s gone to fetch me some pot. He’ll be back in like 5 minutes,” I replied enthusiastically and very impressed with myself.
Bill, Trevor, and I were in Dublin for the same reason: to urge Irish voters to vote YES in their historic marriage equality referendum. My iPhone told me we’d already walked 25,918 steps canvassing near Dublin’s Houston Station and later in Ballyfermot out in the ‘burbs.
(That’s 13.75 miles if you’re curious and yes I have screenshots!)
Trevor and Bill were friends back in the day and kept in touch. I, on the other hand, froze Bill out of my life when he linked up with Chris Christie.
“BILL IS COMING!” Trevor barked, making sure I heard him this time. “He’ll be here in 5 minutes!“
I could feel my ears get hot and that surge of adrenaline that often precedes a dramatic confrontation. I was ready to ask Bill WTF he was thinking scheming to weaponize the busiest bridge on the planet to punish a mayor who didn’t kiss Christie’s ass?
“You could have been Governor!” I’d say. “How could you betray yourself and your values and your friends for a piece of garbage like Chris Christie?!”
Of course thinking about it now, with my 20/20 retrospect googles on, it’s easy to see why someone might hitch their star to Chris Christie’s wagon back in 2010. Presidential chatter surrounded Christie from the jump and and let’s be honest: at the height of his powers – circa 2010-2012 – was easy to imagine Chris Christie in the White House one day.
This may or may not have been on Bill Baroni’s mind when he enabled Chris Christie’s very worst impulses at the Port Authority.
United States Attorney General Bill Baroni, anyone? It wasn’t a stretch to envision such a thing before BridgeGate burned it all down.
But none of that 20/20 hindsight was on my mind that night in Dublin.
“YESSSSSS QUEEN!” cried the Irish queen, again, snapping everyone especially me back to attention.
My phone buzzed. It was Ronan, the devastatingly hot Irishman who’d gone to fetch me some pot.
“I’m out front. Bring a lighter” he texted.
I’m a hardcore pot smoker but on this night, one little toke and all those 25,918 steps caught up with me at once.
There would be no dramatic Dublin confrontation with Bill Baroni that day. I was home asleep within half an hour.
In fact, I wouldn’t see Bill in person until I covered week 1 of his federal trial in Newark in September of 2016.
We’ll cover all that (and more) in Part 2 of My Friend Went to Prison for BridgeGate and I’ve Got Strong Opinions About it!! coming later this week!
And for the record, Ronan wasn’t even gay. He was at Georgie’s celebrating with a friend who’d come back from Australia just to vote. He scored me some lovely Irish cannabis because he thought it was cool that a guy from New Jersey came so far to help the Irish fix their constitution.
Voters made history a few days later when they choose marriage by a whopping 24 point margin, 62-38%.
Don’t forget to stay tuned to InsiderNJ for Part 2 of My Friend Went to Prison for BridgeGate and I’ve Got Strong Opinions About It! COMING SOON!!!
Jay Lassiter is an iconoclast, tech savvy media artiste, street warrior for LGBT liberty and marijuana reform, and an un-intimidated presence in the halls of Trenton power as he aggressively pursues liberal causes. He’s often at brunch and always on twitter @Jay_Lass.