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Thursday, March 30, 2017

As Christie cozies up to Trump, ex-allies won't be going to prison anytime soon

A 2014 cartoon from the New York Daily News goes to the crux of the Bridgegate scandal: Allies of Governor Christie executed a plan to close access lanes on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge to retaliate against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor, who didn't endorse his November 2013 re-election bid, and in the process violated the civil rights of drivers and others caught in five mornings of gridlock.
Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, above, and co-defendant Bill Baroni were found guilty by a federal jury last Nov. 4 (photo by Mel Evans of the Associated Press)




Despite the big black headline on the front page of The Record along with three news or opinion pieces today, the story of the Bridgegate scandal is far from over.

It definitely isn't "prison time" -- as the main headline claims -- for Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, the former allies of Governor Christie who will appeal their convictions and sentences in the September 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closures (1A).

That process can take up to two years, extending their freedom from 24-month and 18-month federal prison terms, respectively.

And David Wildstein, Christie's onetime Port Authority crony and the government's star witness, still faces sentencing on his 2015 guilty plea to conspiracy.

New probe?

Meanwhile, Assemblyman John Wisniewski called President Trump's announcement that Christie will head a new commission on opioid addiction an attempt to distract from Wednesday's sentencings of Baroni and Kelly.

Wisniewski also appealed to the Democratic majority in the state Legislature to re-open the state level investigation into Bridgegate.

Christie was never charged despite testimony from Wildstein, Baroni and Kelly the GOP thug knew about the lane closings as they were happening in September 2013.

"I will not allow myself to be the scapegoat," Kelly, 44, said after she was sentenced in Newark federal court on conspiracy, wire fraud and civil rights violations.

Baroni, 45, the former Port Authority executive who was found guilty on the same charges, said he was "wrong and I am truly sorry," but noted "a number of people outside of this courtroom were involved in Fort Lee that day -- some charged, some not."

Three days in row

Today's coverage is the third day in a row the Baroni and Kelly sentencing hearing appeared on Page 1.

Monday's news story reported federal prosecutors were asking for a 3-year prison term for each, and that both were asking for leniency.

On Tuesday, Columnist Charles Stile basically duplicated Monday's news story, and focused on the "first-time offenders" hoping for leniency.

Today, Stile's Page 1 column claims Christie "launched his latest political rehabilitation Wednesday as the compassionate and caring crusader, vowing to stomp out the opioid drug epidemic [italics added]" (1A).

This despite The Record reporting for months that Christie has vowed to end the epidemic, and just last month signed into law a bill mandating insurance coverage to give addicts immediate access to treatment (6A).

Meanwhile, Columnist Mike Kelly tries to calculate to the penny the "cost" of Bridgegate (10A), reportng incorrectly that the plan "to re-arrange the traffic cones" near the bridge "ended on Wednesday" in U.S. District Court in Newark.

Local news?

Hackensack residents aren't as interested in the Bergen County executive's $522 million spending plan as they are in the growing value of tax-exempt county property in the city (1L).

Unfortunately, Staff Writer Steve Janoski and his predecessors have never explored how that tax-exempt property -- including the newly opened Justice Center on Court Street -- unfairly shifts the property tax burden onto city residents.

Nor has The Record reported on what, if anything, the county has returned to the city to compensate for that growing tax burden. 

Hackensack news

Hackensack Mayor John Labrosse and Board of Education Attorney Richard Salkin clashed over a teacher "who appears to have distributed campaign material on school time, which is a potential violation of school policy," Staff Writer Rodrigo Torrejon reports (3L). 

A photo of an angry, finger-pointing Salkin runs with the story on Tuesday's school board meeting.

Salkin has good reason to be angry with Labrosse, who headed a slate of City Council reformers elected in May 2013 over five candidates backed by the Zisa family political dynasty.

After the reformers were elected, they stripped Salkin, a Zisa ally, of his second job -- municipal prosecutor.

Salkin has never forgiven them, and he has appeared regularly at City Council meetings to criticize, scold and berate them.

Now, a new slate backed by the Zisas opposes the May 9 re-election bid of the mayor, three other incumbents and a fifth candidate, all of whom are running as the Labrosse Team for Lower Taxes and Honest Government.

Both Salkin and school board President Jason Nunnermacker are lawyers for the Zisa-backed slate, Hackensack United for Progress.