A history of perceived revenge on Gov. Chris Christie’s critics includes an ex-governor who lost police protection, a professor who lost financing and a mayor’s town that became gridlocked.
In almost every case, Mr. Christie waved off any suggestion that he had meted out retribution. But to many, the incidents have left that impression, and it has been just as powerful in scaring off others who might dare to cross him.
Now, the governor is dogged by another accusation of petty political revenge. Two close political allies ordered the abrupt shutdown of two local access lanes on the George Washington Bridge in September, gridlocking Fort Lee, N.J., for four days. The borough’s mayor said it was punitive because he had declined to endorse the governor’s re-election.
The governor mocked the suggestion as preposterous. But Democrats in New Jersey — and privately, some Republicans too — say it would hardly be out of character for Mr. Christie. As the governor prepares to run for president, the accusation has reinforced his reputation as a bully.
“Every organization takes its cues from the leadership as to what’s acceptable and what’s not, and this governor, in his public appearances, has made thuggery acceptable,” said Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski, the Democrat leading the hearings that have exposed the role of the governor’s aides in the lane closings. “For the governor to say, ‘I knew nothing about this’? He created the atmosphere in which this is acceptable.”
It was the governor’s penchant for confrontation that first propelled him onto the national stage in 2010. As he pushed to cut public employee benefits, his staff celebrated video clips of him dressing down teachers at town hall-style meetings by posting them on YouTube. (“You want to come up here? Come up here,” the governor said to one teacher, a fellow Republican, who hesitated until the governor’s security state troopers gave him no choice. Wagging a finger, Mr. Christie lectured the man, then dismissed him from the hall.)
But his confrontations are not always that public.
In 2011, Mr. Christie held a news conference where he accused State Senator Richard J. Codey of being “combative and difficult” in blocking two nominees. Mr. Codey, a Democrat who had served as governor following the resignation of James E. McGreevey, responded that he had not only signed off on the nominations, but had held a meeting to try to hurry them along.
Three days later, Mr. Codey was walking out of an event in Newark when he got a call from the state police superintendent informing him that he would no longer be afforded the trooper who accompanied him to occasional public events — a courtesy granted all former governors. That same day, his cousin, who had been appointed by Mr. McGreevey to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was fired, as was a close friend and former deputy chief of staff who was then working in the state Office of Consumer Affairs.
“I understand politics, that a new administration comes in,” Mr. Codey said, but he believed this was not about Mr. Christie bringing in his own people. “This was all about sending a message.”
The governor laughed at the allegation of retribution, and his spokesman belittled the Democratic Party chairman who complained about it.
Later that year, the governor was pressing hard on Alan Rosenthal, the Rutgers political scientist whom Republicans and Democrats had chosen as the tiebreaking member of the commission that was redistricting the state’s legislative districts. Mr. Christie wanted Mr. Rosenthal to vote for the map put forward by the Republicans on the commission, but instead he chose the Democrats’ plan, saying it offered more stability.
Soon after, Mr. Christie used his line-item veto to cut $169,000 for two programs at Mr. Rosenthal’s institute at Rutgers.
The apparent payback is not always directed at Democrats — Mr. Christie can be just as hard on Republicans in an attempt to enforce party discipline.
In 2010, when a blizzard paralyzed the state, State Senator Sean T. Kean, a Republican, told a reporter that the “one mistake” the Senate president and governor had made was not calling earlier for a state of emergency, which might have kept more cars off the roads.
Mr. Christie was smarting from criticism that he had remained at Disney World during the storm. When he returned, he held his first news conference in Mr. Kean’s home district. Shortly before, a member of the governor’s staff called Mr. Kean and warned him not to show up. His seat was eliminated in redistricting the following year.
Mr. Kean, now in the Assembly, declined to comment. At the time, an anonymous administration official told The Star-Ledger that Mr. Kean got what he deserved.
Last year, another Republican, State Senator Christopher Bateman, voted against the governor’s plan to reorganize the state’s public medical education system. Mr. Bateman had been working with the governor to get a judge appointed in his home county. Suddenly, after months when it looked as if it would happen, the nomination stalled.