Thursday, September 29, 2016

Christie's mouthpiece cursed probing Bridgegate reporters

Commuters on stretchers this morning after an NJ Transit train on the Pascack Valley Line failed to stop in the Hoboken Terminal and jumped the platform, below. TV stations reported at least one person died and more than 100 were injured in the crash, which brought down a canopy over the tracks. Witnesses reported seeing the engineer slumped over the controls. Both photos are from Getty Images.

The train was described as a "pusher" -- with a diesel engine being operated by an engineer at the rear of passenger cars.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Add another one of Governor Christie's closest aides to the list of those who knew a "partisan plot was behind the George Washington Bridge traffic jams" in Fort Lee, according to a Page 1 story in The Record today.

In Bridgegate trial testimony on Wednesday, star prosecution witness David Wildstein, the crony Christie appointed to a powerful post at the Port Authority, fingered Michael Drewniak, a former Star-Ledger reporter who served as the governor's chief spokesman.

Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty in the lane closures, testified he met with Drewniak on Dec. 4, 2013, and told him "specifically, this was political retaliation" against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich "for not endorsing Governor Christie's [re-election] campaign" (A-6).

Wildstein and Bill Baroni, another former Port Authority official who is one of the defendants, asked Drewniak to respond to a Star-Ledger reporter looking into the controversy.

The former reporter "used an expletive" [likely the F-word] and called the reporter a "mutt" [as in "F-ing mutt"], The Record reported on Jan. 16, 2014.

He used the same expletive in response to a request for comment from a Star-Ledger editorial writer:

"[Expletive] him and the S-L [Star-Ledger]," Drewniak wrote in an email.

In May 2014, Drewniak testified before a legislative panel investigating the lane closures, insisting Wildstein said he was responsible for the traffic gridlock, but that the cause was a "traffic study."   

For his loyalty to Christie, Drewniak was given a cushy $147,400-a-year job at NJ Transit on April 1, 2015 -- an April Fool's joke on taxpayers.

He was being paid $134,000 a year as the governor's press secretary.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Bridgegate trial testimony so far: Christie, Christie, Christie

The cover of today's New York Post sums up testimony by Bridgegate trial star witness David Wildstein, a crony Governor Christie appointed to a powerful position at the Port Authority, owner and operator of the George Washington Bridge.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Despite Governor Christie's denial -- repeated on Tuesday -- the weight of the evidence in the Bridgegate trial places him at the center of the plot to punish the mayor of Fort Lee in September 2013.

Christie wasn't indicted in the George Washington Bridge lane closures -- five mornings of gridlock designed to retaliate against a Democrat who refused to endorse the GOP thug's re-election.

Still, only his sworn testimony before a federal jury would effectively answer the accusations from prosecutors and David Wildstein, described by The Record today "as the admitted mastermind of the plot" (A-1).

Wildstein pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against two Christie allies who are on trial in Newark, but the judge will consider a reduced sentence only if the former Port official tells the truth.

On Tuesday, Wildstein said he and his boss, defendant Bill Baroni -- then deputy executive director of the Port Authority -- looked forward "to telling Christie of the traffic jam and unheeded pleas for help from their target," Mayor Mark Sokolich (A-1 and A-4).

They did so at the 9/11 ceremony on Sept. 11, 2013, as attested to by a photo of the trio that shows Christie laughing.

Two of three local access lanes to the bridge were shut down from Sept. 9, 2013, the first day of school; to Sept. 13, 2013.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes asked Wildstein if he and Baroni were bragging to the governor.

"Yes," Wildstein testified, "... I was pleasing our one constituent. I was happy that he was happy" (A-4).

Other news?

Usually, Staff Photographer Tariq Zehawi's gee-whiz photos of non-fatal accidents end up on L-3 to fill holes in the local-news report.

But today, his Page 1 photo captured the aftermath of a crash of a large SUV that rolled backward, hit a utility pole and pulled down electric wires -- all of this after a woman parked and got out of the vehicle on Van Schaik Lane in Wyckoff, leaving her 2-year-old son inside.

"The mother did not wish to be identified," the photo caption says of the seemingly irresponsible woman.

Clinton won debate

After not committing to either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald J. Trump after their first TV debate, an editorial today says Clinton "commanded" the stage (A-8).

"One candidate prepared to talk about the issues, while the other was prepared to talk about himself."

"Hillary Clinton obviously won Monday's debate in a rout," said NYTimes.com Op-Ed Columnist David Leonhardt.

Local news

In a rare story about Hackensack, Staff Writer John Seasly reports that city officials celebrated the start of construction on a new Performing Arts Center (L-1).

Under that is the obituary of J. Herbert Leverette, 87, a Korean War veteran who was elected Hackensack's first black council member in 1965.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Time to poll Americans on who we trust in the news media

In his first debate with Democrat Hillary Clinton, GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump didn't mention the wall he wants Mexico to build on the U.S. border. This cartoon is from Christo Komarnitski in Bulgaria.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

"Clinton and Trump
come out swinging"

Is this trite, non-committal Page 1 headline the best The Record's editors can do today to describe the first presidential debate?

With the names changed, this same headline probably has run every time presidential candidates engaged in their first televised confrontation.

Democrat Hillary Clinton looked and sounded far more presidential than Trump, the wacko racist who didn't prepare for the debate and at times did a good imitation of a blithering idiot.

On NYTimes.com, David Leonhardt, an OpEd columnist, listed 26 lies Trump told during the debate -- from the loan his father once gave him to "birtherism" to calling women "pigs."

Then, Leonhardt asks, "So ... who won the debate?"

The Times has already endorsed Clinton for president, leaving readers of The Record wondering when the editorial board of the Woodland Park daily is finally going to take sides.

"Our endorsement is rooted in respect for her intellect, experience and courage," The Times said on Sunday.

A recent Record editorial claimed Americans don't trust either presidential candidate, but no one has polled readers on whether they trust the paper's editorial board, which didn't call on Christie to resign after endorsing Trump in February, as did seven other dailies.

A 'Cichowski'

A second blithering idiot appears on A-1 today --Road Warrior John Cichowski, who slams David Wildstein, the former Port Authority executive who pleaded guilty and is testifying as the chief prosecution witness in the Bridgegate trial.

Cichowski's column is one of two pieces that attack Wildstein's credibility (A-1 and A-4).

As usual, Cichowski's column is padded with so much nonsense you have to wonder why the editors ran it at all.

"The governor's childhood chum explained the makings of something so bizarre [conspiring with other officials to cause a traffic jam] that it might some day be called a 'Wildstein'" (A-1).

Well, there are a few 'Cichowskis' in the column -- stuff he completely makes up -- like reporting for the first time that closure of two upper-level access lanes to the George Washington Bridge from Sept. 9 to 13, 2013, "paralyzed Fort Lee and several other towns." 

A second "Cichowski" is noting "the world's busiest bridge ... links America's biggest city to New Jersey's biggest county."

Oh, that's why they built it.

Can readers trust anything they read in the Road Warrior column, which Cichowski has mishandled for all of the 13 years he's been doing it?

Shuber told?

On Monday, Wildstein testified he alerted Pat Shuber, a Port Authority commissioner, to the plan to create gridlock in Fort Lee in 2013 to punish the borough's Democratic mayor for not endorsing Governor Christie's reelection.

Wildstein said Shuber, who was appointed by Christie, "understood," but an attorney for the former Bergen County executive denies the conversation ever took place.

Abused seniors

Staff Writer Colleen Diskin, the closest thing the paper has to a reporter who covers the elderly, today describes a Bergen County nursing home with a free room for any abused senior -- "a temporary place to stay to get away from exploitative, neglectful or violent circumstances" (A-1).

What about the majority of Bergen seniors, who travel, dine out frequently, go to Broadway shows and subscribe to The Record?

When is Diskin going to pay any attention to them? 

Local news?

The Local front today reports on a major endorsement for Josh Gottheimer, the Democrat trying to unseat Rep. Scott Garrett in the 5th Congressional District (L-1).

Gottheimer has repeatedly attacked Garrett as a Tea Party radical, but that identification doesn't appear anywhere in the story on retired Gen. Wesley Clark's appearance at a campaign event for the former Microsoft executive.

A second story reports Teaneck Councilman Mark Schwartz, a Democrat who is Jewish, is endorsing Garrett, claiming the congressman is "one of the best friends Israel has" (L-1).

Four major stories about Paterson appear in a local-news section that has little news about the 70 towns in Bergen County.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Trial explores how Christie's politics turned into criminality

This Jan. 9, 2014, front page from a New York tabloid shows the kind of aggressive reporting that assumed Governor Christie had a central role in the George Washington Bridge lane closures -- a conclusion only now dawning on The Record's editors after a week of testimony in the Bridgegate trial.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

From the looks of The Record's front page today, the editors appear to be the last people on Earth to realize Governor Christie had a central role in the Bridgegate scandal.

Meanwhile, opinion Columnist Brigid Harrison says the state Legislature should consider articles of impeachment against the governor, if the evidence shows he knew all along about retaliating against a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse the GOP thug's reelection (O-3).

Harrison -- a professor at Montclair State University -- wrote the same column for The Star-Ledger three days ago.

What has Record Columnist Mike Kelly been saying about the criminal trial of Bill Baroni, who was at the Port Authority, and Bridget Anne Kelly, who was Christie's deputy chief of staff?

"Consider what we are learning about all of these public servants who took on tasks that were never part of their job descriptions," Kelly says.

"All this extra work. Truly amazing to behold" (O-1).

Harrison's impeachment column should have run on Page 1, and Kelly's sophomoric attempt at satire shouldn't have run at all.

Nail in coffin

One of the final nails in Christie's coffin was driven by David Wildstein, the crony he appointed to a powerful position at the Port Authority, owner and operator of the bridge.

Wildstein, the government's star witness, testified on Friday about what he called "the one constituent rule" at the massive bi-state transportation agency (A-1 on Saturday).

"The one constituent rule meant that the only person who mattered was Governor Christie," Wildstein told the federal jurors.

"He was the one constituent. If it was good for Governor Christie, it was good for us."

Wildstein referred to Kelly, one of the defendants, as one of his main contacts in the Governor's Office and his "boss" (A-8 on Saturday).

In fact, prosecutors allege Kelly's email to Wildstein, using their personal accounts -- "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" -- set into motion closure of GWB access lanes and five mornings of paralyzing gridlock in September 2013.

His testimony suggests that is when Christie's politics turned into criminal acts -- including  conspiracy to deny the civil rights of Fort Lee residents and others, as well as wire fraud.

Wildstein also testified the Port Authority had a "goody bag" to help Christie's reelection effort and presidential aspirations, including surplus vehicles sent to Washington Township's emergency squad.

Wasted space

As The Record has done many times in covering Christie, Saturday's front page carries a long, detailed news story on Wildstein's testimony in Newark federal court and a political column that basically rehashes what he said.

But Staff Writer Charles Stile's Political Stile column is a colossal waste of space, failing to add any insights or express any strong opinions about Christie's mean-spirited policies, reelection campaign or failed White House bid.

And in an editing oversight, Stile refers to the "Constituency of One Rule," and the news story calls it "the one constituent rule."

Local news?

S0-called commuting columnist John Cichowski could be writing about greater fuel efficiency, the transition to hybrid and purely electric vehicles, and the benefit to the environment.

He could advise his peers that even EVs with a range of 100 miles on a full charge suit the limited driving of most senior citizens.

Instead, Cichowski's Road Warrior column today revives the age-old debate over whether car engines really need premium gasoline (L-1).

On L-3, a story discusses added parking spaces at Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood instead of what the district is doing to improve graduation rates.

Mixed message

On Friday, Staff Writer Elisa Ung gave 2.5 stars out of 4 stars (Good to Excellent) to Brookside Bistro in Riverdale, a Morris County town far from the heart of the circulation area in Bergen County.

Yet, she also told readers the restaurant would be good for "a casual dinner, if you live in the neighborhood," but less appropriate for a "destination ... dinner." 

Huh?