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Former ‘Bridgegate’ villain seeks political resurrection

RAMSEY, NJ (AP) – Bridget Kelly wants to talk about ‘Bridgegate’.

Not by choice, but because she understands that the traffic scandal that rocked New Jersey politics is something she wears like a bad tattoo.

The former assistant to the former Republican governor. Chris Christie has talked a lot more about the scandal these days as she seeks an ambitious political resurrection.

A year after the United States Supreme Court dismissed his conviction for conspiring to create a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to punish a mayor who did not support his boss, Kelly is running for election as County Clerk of Bergen.

If she succeeds, it would mark an astonishing turnaround in a saga that has seen her go from a relatively anonymous government official to a defendant and a national butt of jokes.

“I have nothing to hide from ‘Bridgegate’. I’m happy to discuss this at length, ”Kelly said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I also think people are fed up. And I think people, if I talk to them, they kind of start to like me and they know I’m as genuine as you are going to be.

Residents of Bergen County first met Kelly as part of a small group of Republican political operatives who, in 2013, had workers’ access roads to the George Washington Bridge deliberately blocked off to create four days traffic jams in the suburbs of Fort Lee.

Safeguards trapped buses carrying schoolchildren, blocked ambulances, and infuriated masses of commuters trying to cross the bridge into Manhattan. The coverage was that the lane closures were part of a traffic study. But the real goal, later revealed through documents and testimony, was to get revenge on Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for refusing to back Christie for re-election.

“It’s time for some traffic problem in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote in an email that appeared to be a smoking gun of guilt when it later went public.

Kelly’s campaign to become County Clerk, an official tasked with handling the mundane but important transactions of daily life – liens, mortgages, passports, photo cards for veterans, naturalization records – could test the adage that he there is no bad publicity.

“She must have near universal name recognition, which is an asset that cannot be overstated in a low profile race like this,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of the non-partisan Rebovich Institute for Politics. from New Jersey to Rider University. “The key question is whether the county’s electorate, which is strongly Democratic, is prepared to do what it asks them to do: look beyond the one thing they know about her.”

This Bergen County, where Kelly lived most of her life, is also home to Fort Lee has not been lost to incumbent John Hogan.

Hogan made the announcement to kick off his campaign in March from a stone’s throw from the bridge, where he called the scandal “deplorable” and “embarrassing.” Kelly responded by issuing a statement calling Hogan’s event a “youthful drama.”

For Kelly, a return to New Jersey politics seemed like a pipe dream in 2019, when she was weeks away from running to federal prison before the Supreme Court decided to hear her appeal of her fraud conviction and conspiracy in 2016.

When the court ruled last year that prosecutors had misapplied the law and unanimously decided to overturn the convictions of Kelly and former Bridges Authority executive Bill Baroni, the single mother of four children decided to resume a career in limbo for more than five years. .

The reception from former colleagues has been freezing, Kelly said.

“I went to see friends on both sides of the aisle, and I use the term friends loosely, and I asked them to bury me somewhere, just let me in somewhere,” he said. she declared. “” Do you remember what I was doing, my reputation? I have certainly learned the hard way what not to do. But let me come back. And they all said no.

Kelly thinks the reluctance can be attributed to the still influential Christie. The two have not spoken since Christie fired her in January 2014 after disclosures about the bridge’s tracks became public; they sat against each other last year during Supreme Court arguments but did not speak.

Christie was not charged but saw the scandal sink his 2016 presidential hopes. He said he was unaware of the scheme, but Kelly and others contradicted him in their testimony at trial . Kelly maintains that she was scapegoated and that the former governor is now in the process of getting revenge.

People “are afraid of what he will do if they support someone they don’t like no matter who it is,” Kelly said.

Christie, who heads a public policy institute named after her, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Kelly’s re-branding as a career public servant who found herself embroiled in something she didn’t fully understand is at odds with the narrative presented by prosecutors: a willful conspirator who was in the project from the start and reacted with apparent glee when the stalemate ensued.

Unsurprisingly, his supporters choose the first version.

“She was thrown under the bus,” Mahwah resident Cary Grobstein said during a June fundraiser for Kelly. “She got up off the mat, got up and started swinging, after what she went through. Everyone deserves a second chance. “

This take does not suit Sokolich, who is still the mayor of Fort Lee.

“I have forgiven her and I hope she continues with her life,” Sokolich said. “But you don’t close the busiest bridge in the world, endanger the safety of tens of thousands of people, and as a result, get some recognition and use that name recognition to run for constitutional office in the county scale. “

Hogan, meanwhile, has served at multiple levels of local government and comes from a family whose involvement in politics dates back over 80 years. He argues that Kelly’s past conduct should be disqualifying.

“If I were a voter, I wouldn’t even consider her for a spot after what happened with the bridge,” Hogan said.

For Kelly, it’s just about moving on.

“If I was trying to hide anything and really wanted to run away from ‘Bridgegate’ I don’t know if I would put myself forward in the audience again,” she said. “He will never leave me. Never. He will always be there. But it’s time for me to take charge of my life.

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