NEWARK – Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich testified on Wednesday in the Bridgegate trial of former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni and former Governor Chris Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly. During his testimony, Sokolich admitted to lying in a November 2013 letter to the editor published in the Newark Star-Ledger.
In that letter, Sokolich said that he did not believe the George Washington Bridge lane closures had been an act of political retribution. However, his statements on Wednesday walked back on his earlier claims. During his testimony, the mayor said he felt all along that the closures came as a result of his failure to endorse Governor Christie for reelection.
“I was petrified of further retribution,” Sokolich said during his testimony to explain his motivation for lying in his letter. “I am not proud of what I did.”
During Sokolich’s Wednesday testimony the mayor was also questioned about several pieces of evidence related to the lane closures. One piece of evidence presented was a September 13 (the day the lanes were restored) text message to Baroni saying, “Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to the errors of my ways.” According to Sokolich, that statement referred directly to his suspicions that the lane changes had been purposely done in order to cause trouble in Fort Lee. The mayor said that, despite his editorial assertions, he reached the conclusion early-on that there were “punitive overtones” to the lane closures.
When questioned by Kelly’s lawyer Michael Critchley about whether his editorial was part of an effort to get back into Christie’s good graces, Sokolich said that there was nothing, at that point, that he felt he could do “to curry any favor with the Christie administration.” According to the mayor, a large part of his motivation from the letter stemmed from fear that a large area of redevelopment in Fort Lee would be stalled if he did not act. He said he was concerned that if he claimed responsibility of the administration for the closures “they” would keep the redevelopment from moving forward.
“They includes the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. They includes the governor. They includes the legislature… they includes any agency,” Sokolich said.
On Wednesday the mayor also clarified the timeline of events from testimony he had given on Tuesday. According to statements from the previous day, the mayor had said he was in contact with Matt Mowers of the Governor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs as early as one month before the lane closure scandal regarding a potential endorsement. However, on Wednesday Sokolich clarified that he last spoke with Mowers in late March.