Until last week, Gov. Chris Christie's perceived public persona as a so-called “straight-shooter” had undoubtedly benefited him in the business arena.
Between the signing of bipartisan incentives legislation to countless ribbon cuttings across the state packaged with photo ops with top Democrats ranging from Cory Booker to Steve Sweeney (and let's not forget about the famous stroll he took with President Obama), Christie has long embodied the role of the politician who's willing to reach across the aisle if it's in the best interest of New Jersey.
Business leaders love bipartisanship.
So what happens now?
What happens now that it has been proven that the governor's team not only knew about the lane closures on the GW Bridge, they encouraged and approved of them?
And with further testimony from connected officials still expected, have the revelations damaged the governor's relations in any way with the state's business community?
“I'd hope not,” said Michael Egenton, vice president of government relations for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber has scheduled and still plans to have Christie deliver the keynote speech at its upcoming annual dinner event in Washington, D.C., next month.
While he admits politics has a way of rearing “its ugly head” in Trenton, Egenton said that he encourages lawmakers and leaders to heed the message of bipartisanship instead and remember that growing the economy and creating jobs should be their “primary focus.”
“That's the way to continue,” Egenton said.
The road, however, has changed.
Most city and business officials would not speak on the record about how the George Washington Bridge scandal would impact their relationship with the governor — and after the revelation of a vindictive administration, it's hard to blame them.
But while some said towns may have a bit more leverage in their dealings with the governor's office, they know things can change quickly.
As for the governor's presidential ambitions in 2016, they too remain in question.
What will move the dial in one direction or another will be how much focus national media outlets continue to give the controversy, says Rutgers University professor and Eagleton Poll director David Redlawsk.
“A lot is going to depend on how the national media plays it,” Redlawsk said.
Krista Jenkins, a Fairleigh Dickinson University professor and director of the PublicMind Poll, said that while the emails might capture the attention of those in New Jersey, it's still unknown if potential voters from other parts of the country will even care.
“I don't know if your average voter in Iowa right now is paying all that much attention to it,” Jenkins said.
But if voters in Iowa may not care about sitting in traffic at the entrance to the George Washington Bridge, some in New Jersey surely will. Though Christie has maintained very high approval ratings among New Jerseyans since Sandy, Jenkins thinks there's potential for him to slip, if even just a little.
“I would not be surprised if there is somewhat of a dip,” Jenkins said.
It's tough to see how there wouldn't be.
For weeks, the governor repeatedly denied his office had any involvement in the matter and even mocked reporters for repeatedly asking, saying in jest that he was in fact the one who went out to Fort Lee to move the cones that first day.
But the series of damning emails and text messages exchanged between top Christie staffers and Port Authority officials that were released last week don't just present an apparent direct link between his office and the lane closures, they also hint at the move coming as some form of political retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who did not endorse Christie in his 2013 re-election bid.
Though Christie spent weeks telling reporters that Sokolich wasn't even on his radar, emails exchanged between his deputy chief of staff and former appointee at the Port Authority depict a deliberate plot to wreak havoc on Fort Lee as a form of political retribution.
Christie's big personality has attracted a lot of attention to New Jersey — and that's been good for businesses all over the Garden State. It remains to be seen if the GW Bridge episode will now hurt.
One thing's for certain: It's keeping New Jersey in the spotlight.
“I was on the phone with someone from out of state today talking about coming to New Jersey,” one city official said. “And all they wanted to do was talk about the Christie press conference.”
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