FORT LEE, N.J. – Traffic is bad on a normal day in this town, a hodgepodge of single-family homes and big apartment towers on the banks of the Hudson River across a bridge from Manhattan. Small one-way streets pass by Korean groceries, banks and real estate offices, dumping traffic onto streets already packed with cars and buses.
During the September days when access ramps to the George Washington Bridge were closed because of what was revealed to be a vendetta against the popular mayor of this Democrat-leaning town, it didn’t move at all.
And traffic again came to a standstill Thursday evening, as a growing crowd of reporters, residents, and even a man dressed as a hamburger flocked to the town’s Borough Hall to await the arrival of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, in town to personally apologize to Mayor Mark Sokolich and the town’s residents for the incident.
Police closed one lane on Main Street, and rush-hour traffic sat at a stand-still as cars waited to get onto – and off of – the George Washington Bridge and the maze of one-way streets leading to it.
Curious onlookers wandered over on foot and bike to see what the fuss was about, while in the banks and real estate offices nearby, employees watched from the windows, bemused by the commotion.
Nearby, a crowd of elderly men played rummy in the VFW hall, bickering over whether the scandal should be a big deal or not.
“You try to tell me the guy’s in charge and he don’t know?” said Democrat August Caccavone, 88. “If you rob a bank, are you going to say you did it?”
Some in the crowd waiting outside said they wanted to hear Christie apologize to residents; others said they wanted to show their support for the Republican governor, who won a majority of votes in this town in November.
“I think he did the right thing in getting rid of the woman who was responsible,” said Christian Lasval, a 15-year-old Christie supporter who stood outside in the cold with his father, Julio, to catch a glimpse of Christie.
Though some people in the crowd were supporters like the Lasvals, others came to boo Christie, including a man who declined to give his name, but said he was “insulted” by Christie’s actions, and was convinced Christie knew of the lane closures before they happened. (The person dressed as a hamburger did not indicate whether he was a Christie supporter.)
Some Fort Lee residents, like Sam Gronner, are conflicted. Gronner voted for Christie in November but said he did so “holding my nose.” But unless a “smoking gun” links Christie to the closures, he thinks the governor will emerge unscathed. Whether that’s fair or not is another question, he said.
“If you’re a skeptic, this definitely has shades of – I lived through Watergate,” he said.
When Christie arrived at Borough Hall a little after 4 p.m., he stepped out of the passenger seat of a black SUV and walked up to the building, passing barriers holding back the dozens of journalists snapping pictures and yelling out questions. There was a smattering of applause, and a few boos.
When he emerged an hour or so later, he said that he and the mayor had a “very good, productive meeting” and that he looked forward to working with the mayor in the future. He signed a few autographs and, mobbed by cameramen, climbed back into the car. He did not publicly apologize to residents during the visit – either about the September closures, or about the traffic headache he had caused that very evening.
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