|A splash of fall color on Passaic Street and Poplar Avenue in Maywood, where this tree was sculpted by passing buses and trucks.|
By VICTOR E. SASSON
A Record columnist has done more than anyone outside of her defense team to portray Bridget Anne Kelly as a victim instead of as the central Christie administration figure in the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closures.
Veteran reporter Mike Kelly was granted unprecedented access to the defendant's lawyers, close friends and former associates -- as readers saw last Thursday in his flattering Page 1 profile of Governor Christie's former deputy chief of staff.
As a result, much of his coverage of Kelly's role in the Bridgegate scandal sounds like it was written by a publicist, not a veteran reporter:
We've learned Bridget Kelly, 44, grew up in Ramsey and attended Catholic schools and a Catholic university; and that she is a divorced mother of four with joint custody.
On Tuesday's front page, the editors even ran a photo showing Bridget Kelly wearing a blouse that looked like it was part of a maternity outfit.
That photo ran under a banner headline:
"She's a Catholic kind of orderly person," one of her friends told Mike Kelly for his Thursday profile. "That's why I've always found it absolutely incredible that she would have cooked up this scheme to cause traffic problems in Fort Lee."
The reporter even noted in his lead paragraph for the profile that as she listened to prosecution witnesses testify in the Newark courtroom, she shed a "solitary tear."
In his column today, the reporter says "the other day," Kelly's lawyer, Michael Critchley, "asked her if she knew what a 'scapegoat' was," and before she could answer prosecutors objected "and the judge agreed" (A-1).
That echoed what the columnist had been told by her friends for his extraordinarily long Thursday piece, which appeared a day before she took the stand in her own defense for the first time:
"Kelly's friends say she is the target for unfair punishment," and that star prosecution witness and former Port Authority official David Wildstein "had set her up as a scapegoat" (Thursday's A-6).
Today, the editors run a front page news story on cross-examination of Bridget Kelly, and yet another Mike Kelly column boosting her defense and again portraying her as a victim (A-1).
The prosecutor challenged the defendant's portrayal of herself as "a bit player in the administration," and tried to show the jury she ordered two of three access lanes closed for five mornings to punish Mark Sokolich, the Democratic mayor, for not endorsing Christie's reelection (A-1).
Of course, what the columnist or The Record's editors believe won't mean anything when federal prosecutors sum up and the case goes to the jury.
Bridget Kelly still has not been able to explain away her email to Wildstein, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," which she sent about a month before he put the lane closures into motion as part of a so-called traffic study.
She told the jury the email wasn't "an order."