In another indication of the hardball Gov. Chris Christie played to win support from Democratic officials, documents released Monday show that the governor’s administration aggressively courted the mayor of Jersey City, N.J., then abruptly cut ties after he informed them that he would not endorse the governor for his re-election.
The release of the documents comes as the Christie administration tries to control the political damage of revelations last week that aides to the governor in his office and campaign worked with his appointees at the Port Authority to shut down lanes on the George Washington Bridge as an act of political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J. That mayor, also a Democrat, had declined a request to support the governor’s re-election.
According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request, the courtship between Christie and the Jersey City mayor, Steven Fulop, began with a call from the governor on May 14, after the Fulop won the election. The next morning, Christie’s campaign manager for his re-election, Bill Stepien, texted Fulop to say that the Christie administration would do as much as Fulop wanted to get help from the administration.
Working with Bridget Anne Kelly — an aide to Christie who was fired last week after the release of documents showing she gave the signal to shut down lanes on the George Washington Bridge — Fulop then set up a day’s worth of meetings on July 23.
Kelly and a Fulop aide referred to it as a “mayor’s day,” with scheduled appointments with commissioners or heads of six different administration agencies, including transportation, economic development, the state treasurer and the commissioner of community affairs — the government official who handles state aid to municipalities, among other matters. Meetings were also set up with the director of Hurricane Sandy recovery and Bill Baroni, the governor’s top appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Emails indicate that the Christie administration planned to send staff from the governor’s office as well.
The meetings were offered by the governor’s office, to help with, as Kelly wrote, “what the Fulop administration will need in the beginning months of the term.”
“We’re looking forward to working closely with you and your administration,” Kelly wrote to Fulop and an aide. She added, “Some of the conversations may be simple and introductory, while others may focus on actual pending projects and issues.”
After Fulop told Christie aides on July 18 that he would not endorse the governor, the commissioners began calling to cancel.
Almost all cancellations came within an hour, and the remaining ones followed close on their heels. That the commissioners called the mayor’s office personally to cancel shows an unusually close level of involvement for high-ranking government officials.
When Fulop then reached out to Baroni in early August to ask to reschedule and asked if the timing was related to “political conversations” they had been having, he got no response.
In letters and emails to him, Fulop noted that the abrupt cutoff from contact with authority officials particularly hurt the city. The Port Authority operates several facilities in Jersey City, and had caused “undue economic harm” to the city, the mayor wrote, in part by refusing to pay millions of dollars in taxes to the city. Jersey City subsequently sued the Port Authority to try to recoup that money.
Baroni resigned from the Port Authority in December.
Jersey City is the second largest city in the state, and Christie’s office was known during his campaign for re-election to be working hard to win an endorsement from Fulop, a 36-year-old Iraq War veteran whose win marked him as a rising star in the Democratic Party.
Christie, a Republican, was eager to win Democratic support so that he could seek his party’s nomination for president in 2016, as the kind of candidate who could win among groups that Republicans typically do not win.
Fulop’s endorsement was considered an easy target for the Christie re-election staff; other prominent Democrats, including President Barack Obama and Sen. Cory A. Booker, then the mayor of Newark, N.J., had endorsed Fulop’s opponent, the Democratic incumbent. (Municipal elections in New Jersey are often nonpartisan.)