Gov. Chris Christie bumbles chance to gain from Turnpike crisis


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the pugnacious Republican seen as his party’s frontrunner for the 2016 presidential nomination, is in a world of hurt.

As his bard, Bruce Springsteen, wrote in the enduring anthem Jungleland:

Man there’s an opera out on the Turnpike
There’s a ballet being fought out in the alley
Until the local cops
Cherry Tops 
Rips this holy night
The street’s alive
As secret debts are paid

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Christie’s staff apparently arranged to tie up traffic on multiple days last September on the George Washington Bridge/New Jersey Turnpike in Ft. Lee, the city where the bridge comes in to the Jersey side. Apparently, Ft. Lee’s mayor had declined to endorse Christie for re-election. Bad consequences ensued. Now emails expose the deed.
Political dirty tricks go back further than et tu Brute, and this one could derail a presidential candidate.
But I come not to bury Christie, I come to preach to him.

Crisis Christie is a teaching point on what not to do in a crisis, though he still could get out of this mess. And apparently he’s getting good advice because Politico just reported he plans to hold a news conference later today.

But for 24-36 hours — the most crucial period in any crisis — he hemmed and hawed. He issued a statement, claiming he was clueless about the whole thing. He blamed his staff. Not a good position for a presidential aspirant. Remember the standard Harry Truman set about where the buck stops, which measures all presidents, real or hopeful.

Whether this news blindsided Christie or not, he should have held a news conference yesterday. The formula is relatively simple, if often difficult to execute.

Stand up, deliver all the facts you know, take responsibility, apologize if necessary and answer questions until reporters are tired of asking them.

This is especially cogent for a potential presidential candidate whose reputation includes bullying political opponents and generally embracing the role of Jersey tough guy. If you’re going to play the boss when things run smoothly, you’d best be ready to stand up and face the bullets when the guns are aimed back at you.

Depending on how forthcoming Christie is at his news conference, he could show “transformational leadership.” This occurs when someone in crisis shows how effectively he can handle it. If he comes out today and says he’s fired four people directly responsible, releases transcripts of emails proving he was unaware, apologizes and sets forth new policies to prevent anything like this happening again, he’ll probably rise above the tumult.

Face it, 2016 is still some time away and people have short memories.

One last warning: If Christie did know of the dirty trick and says he did not and the lie is later unmasked, then he’s just another line from Jungleland:

Outside the street’s on fire
In a real death waltz
Between what’s flesh and what’s fantasy
And the poets down here
Don’t write nothing at all
They just stand back and let it all be
And in the quick of the night
They reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand
But they wind up wounded
Not even dead
 Tonight in Jungleland

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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One Response to Gov. Chris Christie bumbles chance to gain from Turnpike crisis

  1. shoutabyss says:

    Reblogged this on Shouts from the Abyss and commented:
    Bridgegate is a word that will forevermore be associated with New Jersey Governor Christ Christie. Now that Christie has fired members of his staff and held a lively two-hour press conference, what do you think of his efforts at damage control? This week’s reblog offers some commentary on the crisis and the author later gave Christie a B+ on his attempts at damage control. What do you think? Are Christie’s presidential ambitions dead in the water or will this blow over?

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