On one end of the damning email at the center of Gov. Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal was a low-profile aide who was known to shun the sharp-elbowed style of her peers.
On the other was a once high-flying political star who landed at the Port Authority as a handpicked Christie appointee.
Now, Bridget Anne Kelly and David Wildstein are both unemployed.
Wildstein, the 51-year-old Port Authority exec, resigned from his $150,000-a-year post last month.
Kelly, the 41-year-old top adviser to the New Jersey governor, was fired Thursday morning, a day after she was outed as the source of the email ordering the partial shutdown of the George Washington Bridge.
The stunning fall of the suburban mother of four has jolted her family and shocked longtime Garden State insiders.
“The administration doing this doesn’t surprise me. Bridget Kelly — that does surprise me,” said Jeff Tittel, the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who has worked closely with Kelly for years.
“I don’t believe she would do this on her own,” added Tittel. “I just don’t see her having this kind of side to her.”
Kelly’s role in the mushrooming scandal torpedoed a once-promising political career that included stints with John McCain and ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
“We’re just praying for her, and my son and the four children,” said her ex-father-in-law, William Kelly.
“We’re just praying for them.”
Kelly was a seasoned political operative.
Before joining Christie’s team, she was active in local New Jersey politics and worked on McCain’s presidential campaign.
Kelly was hired by Christie as his director of legislative relations in 2010.
The Ramsey, N.J., native was promoted to deputy chief of staff last April — a position that paid $114,000 a year.
She was seen as one of Christie’s closest advisers, a polished insider who steered clear of the media and acted as the governor’s liaison to other government agencies.
Among the photos she posted on Twitter was a pic of her celebrating her 40th birthday with Christie and other staffers at a restaurant.
“She’s had a very low profile,” said Patrick Murray, founding director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “She’s really worked her way up very quietly.”
Wildstein also operated under the radar in recent years.
But Christie, in between apologies Thursday, tossed his onetime Livingston High School classmate under the bus.
The pair were mere passing acquaintances rather than friends, and didn’t see each other for 23 years after high school, Christie said.
“I was class president and an athlete in high school,” crowed Christie in dismissing Wildstein. “I don’t know what he was doing.”
A former mayor of Livingston who was known for his brashness and ambition, Wildstein morphed into a New Jersey political svengali.
He operated in secrecy running an influential website, PolitickerNJ.com, where he chronicled state politics and saucy political gossip under the pen name Wally Edge.
Wildstein was outed in June 2010, just after he was named the director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority.
He quickly retreated back into the shadows, rarely attending the agency’s public events or speaking to the press.
Critics claimed Wildstein was more interested in carrying out the agenda of his old GOP buddy rather than working to improve the oft-beleaguered bistate agency.
A Port Authority source said that Wildstein, after setting in motion the George Washington Bridge traffic nightmare, actually drove to the bridge to get a first-hand glimpse of the chaos.
“Wildstein is a sociopath,” the source said.
Both Wildstein and Kelly remained in hiding Thursday.
Kelly’s Twitter and LinkedIn accounts disappeared Thursday morning — and there was no answer at her home in Ramsey.
“I have no comment,” a man believed to be Kelly’s dad, Richard Daul, said outside of his house just a few miles away.
Records show that Kelly’s golf pro husband, Joe Kelly, the general manager of the Mendham Golf & Tennis Club, moved out in 2012.
One of Kelly’s neighbors said he is often seen coming and going with the couple’s four young kids.
Before embarking on her political career, Kelly graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University in 1994 with a degree in political science.
“Mom, Dad & Boys-thank u 4 the sacrifices luv & patience-I will make u all proud,” she wrote in her college yearbook.
Like Wildstein, former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni also resigned after getting swept up in the scandal.
Long considered a rising GOP star, Baroni, 42, stepped down from his $289,000-a-year job after first claiming that the lane closures were for a traffic study.
He was Christie’s top appointed staff member at the agency.
“For him to be involved in something like this is ludicrous,” said a woman who identified herself as Baroni’s aunt.
“He is the most honest young man you will ever know.”
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“ Stile: Bridget Anne Kelly looking for new image, new job - News - NorthJersey.com
May 24 2017
She was also job hunting.“She’s unemployed. She’s doing her best trying to seek employment,” her lawyer, Michael Critchley, said while standing in front of the Mercer County Courthouse, after he’d spent several hours arguing why Kelly should not be compelled to comply with a subpoena from the special legislative investigative committee probing the George Washington Bridge lane closings... Read More”
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Unemployed and unable to find a job, the woman who wrote the infamous "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" is relying on financial help from family members, according to her attorney. The federal investigation into her role in the lane closures continues, with the possibility that she could be charged under federal laws that deal with the misallocation of property, interference with one's constitutional rights and conspiracy.
But the criminal defense attorney representing her, Michael Critchley, says if the federal prosecutor indicts her, he won't be able to convict. Even though the internal investigation Christie commissioned into Bridgegate depicted Kelly as an emotional, unstable, scorned lover of her former boss, Bill Stepien, Critchley says Kelly is an accomplished woman, a mother of four, and she would remain composed on the witness stand.
But more to the point, Critchley said Kelly has evidence to back up her claim that she was not responsible for giving the order to close the lanes. "She's a concierge, not a policy maker," he said.
Critchley noted that David Wildstein, the port official who received her fateful email, never mentioned Kelly's name as the person who ordered the lanes closed, according to accounts of Christie officials who spoke to Wildstein in the aftermath. The feds don't have a case, Critchley claims, but he wishes Kelly's name hadn't been tainted to the point that she can't find a job.
Gov. Christie walks with Bill Stepien, his former campaign manager.
Stepien does not appear to be in legal trouble, and has not been implicated in the ordering of the lane closures. But he will never be the manager of Christie's presidential campaign, as was once thought to be inevitable.
Christie fired Stepien from his roles with the Republican Governors Association, which Christie chairs, and the state Republican party, which Christie is the de facto leader of, for his "judgment" in the aftermath of the Bridgegate affair. Or affairs.
Stepien had a sexual relationship with Kelly, who ordered the lanes closed, according to Christie’s internal investigation. Stepien also called the mayor of Fort Lee an "idiot." A friend of Wildstein, Stepien had run two successful campaigns for Christie and was thought to be in line to be the manager of Christie's presidential campaign -- until Bridgegate. But Christie has not ruled out the possibility of working with Stepien again. He has already returned to the world of political consulting -- making $6,000-a-month for a group that works to elect Republicans in New Jersey. Stepien has also done consulting this year for a Minnesota-based political firm with Christie ties.David Wildstein, right, pleaded the fifth at Thursday's Assembly Transportation Committee hearing
Wildstein has not appeared in public since exercising his constitutional right not to incriminate himself before the state legislative panel investigating the bridge lane closures. The former Director of Interstate Capital Projects resigned last December from his $150,000-a-year job at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Wildstein released more than 900 pages of explosive documents, including the now infamous “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email. But then Wildstein went mum, invoking the fifth amendment for every question the state legislature asked him when he appeared before them January 9, other than his name and where he lives (Montville, NJ).
Wildstein, in a plea for the Port Authority to pay his legal bills, surfaced at the end of January to claim that “evidence exists” that Christie had knowledge of the lane closures while they were occurring. Wildstein declined to cooperate with Christie’s hand-picked legal team for their report, released in March. He has been seen near the grand jury in Newark, but has otherwise kept a low profile.
Bill Baroni during his legislative testimony last November.
Baroni has landed a job as counsel at the Princeton law firm Hill-Wallack. He has kept a low profile, and like Wildstein, has not been able to persuade the Port Authority to pay his legal bills.
The former Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority, Christie’s highest staff appointment at the agency, Baroni also resigned last December. At the time, Christie maintained that stepping down in the governor’s second term had been the plan all along, but that he moved up the resignation because the lane closures had become “a distraction.” Baroni’s name surfaced in some of the most distasteful emails and texts, including one where he refers to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who is of Croatian descent, as “the Serbian.”
But Baroni also figures prominently in the attempt to cover up the reason for the lane closures. In hours of what is now widely seen as false testimony to the New Jersey Legislature, Baroni insisted the four-day traffic jam was a legitimate traffic study gone awry. “Nobody in this room believes that!” one Assemblywoman snapped at Baroni during his testimony last November. Afterwards, Christie’s campaign manager, Stepien, thanked Baroni for his performance, acknowledging “it was not as fun as beating up on” former U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, referring to previous Baroni testimony.David Samson at the March Port Authority Board Meeting
Until Bridgegate, Samson may have been the most powerful person in New Jersey that few had ever heard of. Now he has resigned as Chairman of the Port Authority and is thought to be facing criminal charges on both sides of the Hudson.
The Bridgegate documents show Samson with a detailed operational role inside the Port Authority. He consulted daily with Bill Baroni and held several phone calls the morning the bridge lanes were re-opened by the executive director of the Port Authority. Samson would also emerge as a key figure in the second Christie scandal, involving allegations of trading Sandy aid for political support.
Then WNYC, The Record, and other news outlets reported on his soaring business fortunes under Christie, and on conflicts of interest between his private law firm, Wolff & Samson, and his public role as Port Authority Chief. Christie stood by his friend as the criticism mounted, and Samson resigned in March.
The U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, the Manhattan District Attorney, and the Securities and Exchange Commission have all opened investigations of his business dealings. Samson, 74, continues as lead partner at Wolff & Samson, which continues to do business with the state of New Jersey. He has retained Michael Chertoff, the former U.S. Homeland Security Director, to represent him.
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