When the editorial board of The Star-Ledger of New Jersey gathered last October to consider an endorsement for governor, it was clear their support for Gov. Chris Christie was lukewarm at best. Even the board vote was an unusual split decision, 3-1, in favor of Christie, according to Editorial Page Editor Tom Moran.
Four months later the board has done an about-face, unanimously agreeing that they now regret the endorsement and, in the words of Moran, admitting they “blew this one.”
"Yes, we knew Christie was a bully," Moran wrote in the February 9 column. "But we didn’t know his crew was crazy enough to put people’s lives at risk in Fort Lee as a means to pressure the mayor. We didn’t know he would use Hurricane Sandy aid as a political slush fund. And we certainly didn’t know that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer was sitting on a credible charge of extortion by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno."
The endorsement U-turn follows growing evidence tying Gov. Christie’s administration to the so-called Bridgegate scandal, in which Christie aides shut down several approach lanes of the busy George Washington Bridge for four days in September, deliberately sparking traffic tie-ups in the town of Fort Lee as a means of political retribution.
Christie fired the aides in question when their role became public, and the issue has sparked demands for more information on what the governor knew and triggered legislative and criminal investigations into the incident.
"We had a severe case of buyer’s remorse after endorsing him," Moran said Monday, a day after publishing an unusual column announcing the board’s change of heart. “Since his re-election, we have learned some new things about him. We learned that his senior staff was willing to put people’s lives at risk to make a political point on the bridge, we’ve learned that the Hoboken mayor has credible charges of criminal activity by the Lt. Governor and a couple of cabinet members, and we see more and more evidence that he is misusing [Hurricane] Sandy funds for political purposes.”
The Star-Ledger's editorial board began questioning potential ties to the bridge lane closing in December when Christie's top appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the bridge, resigned. Bill Barino, the agency’s deputy executive director, stepped down as questions arose over who ordered the lanes closed.
But Moran said he began to regret the endorsement once the scandal really broke open on January 8 after emails tied to a Christie deputy were released that showed top people in his administration were linked to the shutdown.
But even before the Bridgegate scandal broke the endorsement drew mixed reactions.
CNN offered surprise in a piece that said it was “hardly a glowing endorsement,” while Business Insider's Josh Barro wrote: “Christie got the Star-Ledger's endorsement even though they think he's 'a catastrophe on the environment,' even though he's refused to meet with their editorial board at any time since he was elected (a fact the Star-Ledger editors groused about in their editorial), and even though Christie mocked Star-Ledger editorial page editor Tom Moran as ‘the thinnest-skinned guy in America’ to uproarious laughter at a 2010 press conference.”
But MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow may have offered the most critical attention to the endorsement in an October 21 segment in which she declared, “It’s one thing to damn him with faint praise. This is praising with robust damnation. This is the weirdest newspaper endorsement I have ever seen. What a truly bizarre decision.”