New Jersey has achieved an unexpected level of political scandal, the result of an incident in which officials of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a bi-state agency, blocked several lanes leading from Fort Lee, New Jersey to tollbooths at the George Washington Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River to connect New Jersey to the north end of Manhattan. (The bridge is the north end of the New Jersey Turnpike, but is operated by the Port Authority.)
It has transpired that aides to Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, told the Port Authority to block the lanes in order to create traffic snarls in Fort Lee and punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing Governor Christie's re-election bid. Still unknown to the public is whether Governor Christie (a) proposed the plan, (b) approved the plan when his aides thought it up, or (c) did not know about it in advance, but was pleasantly surprised after the fact by how well it worked.
This scandal includes many of the elements that scandalologists love to study: hundreds of e-mails, a second-rate explanation (the lanes were blocked, the governor's aides said, for a traffic study that the Port Authority didn't know about), a pugnacious press conference, a few fired aides, and a legislative investigation. But the scandal is significant for another reason: it may hint at New Jersey's emergence into the realm of cleaner politics.
Why? Consider this. In all the kerfluffle over the governor's aides ordering the Port Authority to block the lanes, no one's suggested that they did anything illegal. This scandal lacks any suggestion of money, sex, drugs, corruption, organized crime, violence, or graft. It's actually a scandal that would fit well with Portland's laid-back character, the only difference being that here we block lanes with concrete barriers and leafy trees instead of with orange plastic cones. And when our government blocks traffic lanes, they stay blocked.