As Chris Christie tries to move past Bridgegate, he has picked a curious spot to announce his candidacy for president next week. The New Jersey governor will be launching his campaign in the very place he originally met the central figure in the scandal.
Christie will announce his Republican presidential campaign on Tuesday at Livingston High School, according to a report from WNYC. Decades ago, Christie attended that same school with David Wildstein, who last month pleaded guilty for his role in organizing a traffic jam at the entrance to the George Washington Bridge in 2013.
Livingston High School is in an affluent suburb of Newark and is “one of the best schools in the state,” according to Matthew Hale, an associate professor of political science at Seton Hall University in nearby South Orange.
“I imagine he’s going to talk a lot about the American dream that Livingston High School represents,” Hale said. Christie’s choice of venue offers “definite potential for distraction,” Hale said, but Bridgegate is “going to be part of his narrative no matter what.”
Last January, news broke that one of Christie’s top aides and his appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had closed access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, one of the nation's busiest, in an apparent act of political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee. At the time, Christie was one of the most popular governors in the country and a rising star nationally, having won re-election in a landslide in a generally Democratic state.
As federal prosecutors have scrutinized the Port Authority and members of the Christie administration, the governor has consistently maintained he was not involved or aware of the scheme, portraying it as the actions of rogue employees.
Christie has also sought to disassociate himself from Wildstein, whom he appointed in 2010 to a high-ranking job at the Port Authority.
“I don’t even remember in the last four years even having a meeting in my office with David Wildstein,” Christie in January last year. But WYNC reported that Wildstein held a number of meetings with top Christie officials in Trenton during his time at the Port Authority.
Wildstein’s position -- as the director of interstate capital projects -- did not exist before he was hired, according to CNN.
Christie has also said he and Wildstein “were not friends in high school.” Before Wildstein joined the Port Authority, he ran a widely read New Jersey political blog under a pseudonym.
On May 1, Wildstein pleaded guilty. That day, a grand jury indicted Bill Baroni, who had been a chief deputy at the Port Authority, and Bridget Anne Kelly, a former top Christie aide.
From the beginning, Wildstein’s legal team has claimed that “evidence exists” that Christie knew about the GWB lane closure scheme while it was taking place, and his lawyer reiterated that claim once more after the former high-ranking Port Authority executive pleaded guilty. Wildstein is cooperating with prosecutors.
Kelly, for her part, said it is “ludicrous” for prosecutors “to suggest that I was the only person in the governor’s office who was aware of the George Washington Bridge issue.”