by Sue Ann Rybak
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell told an audience at the Speakers Series on the Hill that he found it hard to believe that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was unaware of the email sent by a staff member that created a four-day traffic jam on the Fort Lee, N.J., approach to the George Washington Bridge.
Speaking Jan. 9 at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Rendell noted that at his press conference that same day, Christie kept repeating how sad he was that people he trusted lied to him.
“Well, that’s not good enough,” Rendell said. “The reason they should have been fired is because they endangered lives – for four days. For several hours during the day, emergency vehicles were delayed if not all together stopped in getting around in Ft. Lee.”
Rendell, who arrived late for his talk because he had been asked by CNBC to comment on the Christie press conference, said Christie was “sort of patting himself on the back” for firing members of his administration who were close to him then said that the “test of leadership is when something like this happens you know what do about it.”
Rendell said while that was true, the real test of leadership was also what type of culture you create as a leader. He said that even if Christie is telling the truth and his staff acted without his knowledge, it may have happened because Christie “created a culture where this type of activity is condoned.”
Christie, a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, faces the biggest controversy of his political career after internal emails subpoenaed by New Jersey lawmakers implicated Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, in the closing of several access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, world’s busiest span. The apparent reason for the closing was retaliation against the mayor of Ft. Lee for not endorsing Christie in last year’s election for New Jersey governor.
Rendell said while he thought Christie had done a lot of good things for New Jersey, he cane across as “a bully who can push people around.”
Rendell recalled how Christie screamed at a woman who asked him why he sends his kids to private school.
“He went off at her and yelled and screamed and said ‘it’s none of your business,’” Rendell said.
Rendell said he was asked the same question when he was mayor of Philadelphia and responded by stating that his son, who was in the fifth grade at the William Penn Charter School, was happy there.
“I said, ‘it’s a fine school and I am not going to use my son for political purposes,’” Rendell said. “I didn’t say it was a stupid question. It’s a legitimate question. Christie essentially gave that answer, but he did it by screaming at people.”
Rendell said a good leader understands that communication is a two-way street. He said one of the things you learn as a politician is when you are out in public people are going to ask you questions and the correct response is not to chase them down the boardwalk.
Appearing on CNBC the day of the Christie press conference, Rendell said the American people “have made it clear in poll after poll that they want somebody who can work across the aisle.”
“Gov. Christie,” he added, “has a reputation for doing that. His alliance with President Obama during the storm was important. He’s risking blowing all that.”