So we're working the room at a business seminar, just a few days after the most damning of emails concerning the George Washington Bridge lane closures became public. You can be sure it was the topic of conversation among the roughly 500 business executives who were present. Everyone had an opinion — until we asked them to comment on the record.
As governor of the state, Chris Christie essentially is the default choice for the top spot on our list. But some leaders are more powerful than others. The fact so few people are willing to speak against him — even in the midst of his first serious scandal — shows just how powerful a leader he is. It's not just that he oversees so many government agencies that can have a big impact on business, but also the force of his personality — one that has enabled him to get things done in a bipartisan way while maintaining his stature as the top guy. "Not all governors are this powerful; just look at the recent past in this state," said one insider, who (wait for it) didn't want to be identified. "Christie is as strong as anyone since the venerable Tom Kean. That's saying a lot."
Speculating on Christie's future has been a sport in the state since the day he took over as governor. Now, however, the factors have changed. It's no longer a future that he and his advisers will determine. Depending on what comes out in the coming weeks and months, Christie could return to his overwhelming front-runner status, on track to become the GOP's next nominee for president, or be reduced to a weakened (or even removed) head of state in New Jersey. We'll bet on the former.