NEW YORK — Weeks before a manufactured traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge overtook Fort Lee, N.J., at the behest of aides to Governor Chris Christie, two people central to the scheme jokingly discussed creating traffic problems at a less prominent site: the home of a local rabbi.
“We cannot cause traffic problems in front of his house, can we?” wrote Bridget Anne Kelly, then a deputy chief of staff for Christie.
David Wildstein, a Christie ally at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, suggested they think bigger. “Flights to Tel Aviv all mysteriously delayed,” he wrote. (He appeared to be kidding.)
The exchange was revealed in documents supplied by Wildstein as part of an investigation by the New Jersey Legislature.
The exchange is dated Aug. 19. Six days earlier, Kelly wrote that it was “time for some traffic problems” in Fort Lee — an apparent reference to the plan to close some lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge.
The lanes were closed Sept. 9, setting off wide-scale gridlock over several days and, more recently, threatening the political fortunes of the governor, a Republican, amid allegations the closings were politically motivated.
Though it is unclear why Kelly or Wildstein might have been upset with the rabbi, and though a jam at the rabbi’s house appears never to have happened, the documents lend new context to the charged environment in which Christie’s aides operated, an atmosphere of political paybacks in which the lane closings for Fort Lee could be joked about as a weapon to be wielded.
The exchange began with a picture of the rabbi, Mendy Carlebach of South Brunswick Township, posing with a man who appears to be the House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio.
“I think this qualifies as some sort of stalking,” Kelly wrote. “You are too much.”
“He is Jewish Cid Wilson,” Wildstein replied, a reference to a past candidate for a state Assembly seat. (Wilson’s Twitter page features many photos with prominent officials.) Wildstein added that Carlebach “has officially pissed me off.” Seven minutes later, Kelly raised the prospect of creating traffic problems at the rabbi’s home.
Carlebach said he did not know why he might have drawn the officials’ ire. “I am clueless,” he said.
Indeed, Carlebach seems to have been in their good graces. Since 2011, he has served as a Christie appointee on the New Jersey-Israel Commission, established in 1989 to promote trade and cultural exchange.
He was among Christie’s guests during ceremonies held at ground zero 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2012, Carlebach was part of a group that traveled with the governor to Israel on an “economic mission” to increase trade.
Carlebach says he has been a longtime supporter of Christie, and he was listed as a Middlesex County cochairman in the Jewish Leaders for Christie coalition, according to an e-mail from the governor’s reelection campaign on Sept. 3.
But Carlebach, who has also served as a chaplain of the Port Authority Police Department, made a distinction between supporting and endorsing a candidate. “I never came out publicly and endorsed,” he said. “I am a clergyman. As a policy I don’t endorse, but I support the governor.”
Before the governor’s re-election last November, his campaign aggressively sought the endorsements of Democratic mayors, religious leaders, and other groups in the hopes of running up an impressive margin of victory. A prevailing theory about the lane closings is that they were intended to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, who did not endorse Christie.
The documents include no definitive answer as to why the lanes were closed, or why Christie’s allies were angry at Sokolich. But they do help to clarify the roles of various Christie aides now entangled in the scandal, and their attempts to cover up the traffic ruse.