NJ Deserves some Bridgegate Contrition

Former EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg says that an independent commission should be formed to investigate allegations made by convicted Bridgegate co-defendant Bridget Anne Kelly about serious misconduct in office both by current New Jersey Supreme Court Associate Justice Walter Timpone and high-ranking officials in former governor Chris Christie's administration.

One of my most profound memories from rehab back in ’03 was learning how to apologize properly. After all that meth-fueled lying and scheming, it was finally time to show contrition for my bad judgement and for hurting people. For a junkie like myself, the lesson was long overdue.

Fast forward to 2020, and we’re still living in a world filled with half-hearted, lousy apologies. Maybe people aren’t really sorry? Or maybe, just maybe, we lack the tools to express remorse. After all, not everyone’s  “lucky” enough to get 28 days in rehab!

So please let me share some insights from a place I hope you’ll never have to go.

A proper apology must include the following:

  • An unequivocal expression of embarrassment and/or remorse.
  • Acknowledge how you’d feel if the roles were reversed.
  • Explain how you’ve learned from your transgression and how you won’t repeat it.
  • A plea for forgiveness.

You can add your own little flourishes but 1) never use passive voice (“mistakes were made”) and 2) don’t use the word “if” because there’s no room for equivocation here. That’s called an “ifpology” which, according to the Urban Dictionary, is just another word for fauxpology.

Don’t go there.

Don’t become another Urban Dictionary euphemism.

BridgeGate

To refresh, Bridgegate refers to the time ex Gov. Chris Christie’s team jammed up the George Washington Bridge to punish a political rival. It was, as many of you recall, a spectacular scandal which sent Christie into retirement with the lowest approval numbers in NJ political history.

Last week the United State Supreme Court tossed out the Bridgegate-related convictions against Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, two members of Christie’s administration. Simply put, the court said that despite their federal convictions, whatever “wrongdoing” Baroni and Kelly cooked up didn’t actually amount to a federal crime.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the Court’s unanimous decision.

On one hand:

“[N]ot every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime,” Justice Kagan concluded. “Because the scheme here did not aim to obtain money or property, Baroni and Kelly could not have violated the federal-program fraud or wire fraud laws.”

On the other hand:

“The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing – deception, corruption, abuse of power,” Justice Kagan wrote. “But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct.”

On the heels of the high court’s verdict, Chris Christie was his usual arrogant self on Twitter. He squawked about vindication while heaping scorn on Barack Obama. It’s a strategy that works for Donald Trump and “monkey see/monkey do,” i guess.

Christie accused Obama’s Justice Department of “weaponizing” this case for politics which sounds a lot like projection from a man who weaponized the busiest bridge on the planet out of spite.

Since the US Supreme Court overturned former VA Gov Bob McDonnell‘s conviction in 2016, it’s virtually impossible to convict a public official of corruption without a taped confession. That’s a very damning feature of our criminal justice system and it’s why our own Senator Bob Menendez got off scot free when his benefactor and best friend committed the biggest Medicaid fraud in American history.

If Bob Menendez didn’t go to jail for corruption, ain’t nobody going to jail for corruption.

Bill & Bridget

Last week’s Bridgegate rulings were especially consequential for Mr Baroni and Ms Kelly. Baroni actually went to prison over Bridgegate while Ms Kelly played out the appeals process from home. With their convictions officially tossed, neither face jail time in the future and I’m glad. They’ve paid a high enough price for their choices at this point.

But statements by Ms Kelly and Mr Baroni after the court ruling, while lacking Christie’s obnoxious bluster, didn’t include much contrition either.

When Ms Kelly blamed the press for going after her reputation, it felt like a cheap shot. It’s wearying when people blame the press for everything all that time. I am the media and I covered the Bridgegate trial with nuance.

Back in 2016, I wrote a column called “5 Reasons You Should Donate to Bridget Kelly’s Legal Defense Fund RIGHT NOW” because I didn’t like how Chris Christie threw her under the bus.

A snippet:

By letting Bridget Kelly twist in the wind on his behalf, Chris Christie deprived her of the means to support herself (and her four children.) It’s one thing to be ruthless to people your own size, but by destroying a subordinate in this manner, Chris Christie profoundly impacted Bridget Kelly’s four kids as well.

Does that sound like the press is out to get her? I don’t think so either.

My friend Bill Baroni also declined to properly apologize for his contributions the Bridgegate farce. He deployed an optimistic tone citing his “innocence” from a Supreme Court that “vindicated” him and honestly it felt like a missed opportunity.

Back in Rehab

I went to rehab back in 2003 because I lacked the tools to cope at life: I didn’t have a meth problem so much as I had a Jay Lassiter problem. So when preaching the gospel of contrition, I do so as a zealous convert. Contrition is why I managed to transform my shitty, meth-addicted life into something that’s actually really meaningful.

If I were Bill or Bridget, here’s how my Bridgegate apology would go:

I fucked up big time. And whenever I think about my role in Bridgegate I’m still embarrassed and ashamed all these years later.

The people of NJ deserve competent people running their bridges and they got partisan hackery instead. So I want to say sorry to everyone whose lives were disrupted by my selfish choices. Bridgegate caused a week of mayhem for thousands of people and I’m especially ashamed thinking of the schoolchildren whose first week of school we ruined. I know if something like that happened to me or someone I love I’d be furious, frustrated, and confused.

To my loved ones, I’m sorry for letting you down and I’m ready to earn your forgiveness. There’s a lot of good in me still and I hope you’ll be there to see for yourself. I’m ready to move on with my life and be a better person having learned from my mistakes.

Actions like Bridgegate are why people don’t trust Government. I’ll spend the rest of my life working to restore trust and to repair that breach.

I don’t know if we’ll ever hear anything like that but that’s the apology New Jersey deserves.

Jay Lassiter is a long-suffering NJ political watcher who’s spending quarantine doing fitted sheet folding tutorials. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One response to “NJ Deserves some Bridgegate Contrition”

  1. Thanks! I thought that the Governor should have apologized to all of us in his last State of the State speech. We, inside the halls, knew he micromanaged everything. It would have been nice if just one American politician had the balls to treat us as equals. He embarrassed our state and made us a punchline for the world, not once but twice. Apology still needed.

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