Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich told the Bergen Record Thursday that Gov. Chris Christie (R) made an extensive push to get his endorsement including lunch at the governor’s mansion and favors from officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Sokolich is a central figure into the investigation into September’s lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, which some Democrats have alleged were ordered because Sokolich declined to endorse Christie’s re-election bid. The lane closures led to days of gridlock in Fort Lee.
Sokolich told the newspaper he had lunch with Christie at the governor’s residence, Drumthwacket, along with Hoboken, N.J. Mayor Dawn Zimmer. In January, Zimmer accused the Christie administration of threatening to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid from her city unless she approved a real estate project. He also said officials at the Port Authority, which oversees the bridge, lavished Fort Lee with attention prior to the closures including providing pothole repair and shuttle bus service.
According to Sokolich, his main contact at the Port Authority was the agency’s former deputy executive director, Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee who resigned in December as questions about the closures mounted.
Sokolich also said his cousins from Croatia were given a tour of the 9/11 Memorial Plaza by David Wildstein, the Port Authority’s director of interstate capital projects. Wildstein also resigned in December and documents subpoenaed by a committee investigating the lane closures indicate he was involved in discussions about shutting the lanes with a top aide in Christie’s office.
Sokolich said he believed the Port Authority’s favors were tied to an endorsement, though he was never directly told that was the case. He also told the Record that Matt Mowers, a political operative from Christie’s re-election campaign, continually talked with him about other Democratic mayors who crossed the aisle endorsed the governor.
These statements represent a departure from past comments Sokolich made that he didn’t “recall a specific request to endorse.” Sokolich began backtracking from those remarks in January when he told the New York Times a staffer on Christie’s campaign asked him for an endorsement.
“I never called and said no, I never called and said yes,” Sokolich said. “I think they interpreted my response to that conversation to be a no.”
The Times story included no mention of an extensive campaign by Christie or his allies.
Christie’s office pointed to this shifting narrative when the Record asked for a response to Sokolich’s latest statements. Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for the governor, said Sokolich’s claims of a heavy campaign to get his support were “a direct and absolute contradiction of his public comments up to this point.” Christie has previously said he did not previously know Sokolich and couldn’t pick him “out of a lineup.”