Editorial: Bridge to Nowhere

As Chris Christie’s administration imploded over the last week, a few politicians—from Rand Paul and Jeb Bush to Barbara Buono and Jon Corzine—were surely asking, “is it wrong that I’m smiling?”

Another possibility would be New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose own national ambitions are hardly a secret. But if Mr. Cuomo did, in fact, allow himself a smile, it may have had nothing to do with presidential politics and dueling ambitions.

It was Mr. Cuomo’s man at the Port Authority, Patrick Foye, who emerged as a hero in the otherwise appalling story of frat boys (and girls) run amok in New Jersey.

The Christie scandal exploded at a time when it appeared as though Albany had overtaken Trenton as the regional capital of bad government. Over the last 18 months, New York state lawmakers and other officials have been caught up in an array of scandals involving sex, graft and bribery.

Mr. Cuomo was put on the defensive last year as he struggled with public outrage over Albany’s antics. He made good on a threat to empanel a special Moreland Commission inquiry into legislative ethics but then backed off when investigators started poking around too close to home (he later relented after a series of bad headlines).

But now, as the once high-and-mighty Mr. Christie tries to figure out how to rescue his administration, Mr. Cuomo can rightly say that his man stood up to the worst sort of political dirty tricks. And that’s a credit to both Messrs. Cuomo and Foye.

Mr. Foye had no reason to believe that his role as the voice of outrage would ever become an integral part of one of the better political dramas of the last 10 years. He wasn’t playing to the crowd or delivering high-minded sermons. He simply told his colleagues from New Jersey exactly what he thought of them. 

In an email addressed to, among others, David Samson and Bill Baroni, two of Mr. Christie’s appointees to the Port Authority, Mr. Foye wrote of the now-famous lane closings in Fort Lee: “I believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violates federal law and the laws of both states. To be clear, I will get to the bottom of this abusive decision, which violates everything this agency stands for.”

That’s how a genuine public servant responds to the political machinations of hacks. Mr. Foye did right by the people of the region and by his boss, Mr. Cuomo. 

As for Mr. Christie, it’s fair to wonder if this episode will become a fatal distraction. It’s hard enough to govern a state with one of the highest property tax rates in the nation, a stubbornly high jobless rate and a clearly deserved reputation for the grossest sort of political chicanery. But Mr. Christie now has the added burden of a full-fledged, multipronged investigation of his administration.

One sure sign of his weakened position is the appearance of Democrats suddenly emerging from their bunkers. Weak sisters like U.S. Representative Frank Pallone and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer are now claiming various offenses by the Christie administration. With the scandal in full bloom, “Chris Christie didn’t return my phone call!” is all the media needs to conclude that retaliation has occurred. That is a difficult environment in which to govern.

As this issue’s cover story shows, the Democrats were shockingly meek during the 2013 gubernatorial election. But Chris Christie should beware the  98-pound weakling who had sand kicked in his face by a bully. 

Beware, too, the public servant with a keen sense of ethics. Beware the likes of Patrick Foye.