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New Jersey smoke

Published January 22. 2014 4:00AM

Just 78 days ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie enjoyed a landslide re-election victory that appeared to set up him up as a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. How much things can change in a relatively short time in politics.

Gov. Christie tried to ignore the scandals swirling around him - which endanger not only his viability as a presidential contender, but potentially too his position as governor - in delivering an upbeat inauguration speech Tuesday.

The New Jersey governor stressed the themes that made him politically popular - pursuing a fiscal conservative agenda but one that allows for tolerance, moderation and compromise. He again depicted himself as a leader who will say what needs saying, not what is politically expedient.

Recent revelations and allegations, however, present a different and troubling image. This is the image of an administration ready to strong-arm political opponents who won't do its bidding; to abuse government resources to benefit the governor over the public good.

First came the release of electronic communications confirming that one of Gov. Christie's top aides gave the signal to his associates at the Port Authority in September to close two lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge, an act of political, traffic-creating retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, a Democrat who refused to endorse the governor.

Gov. Christie has fired top officials in his administration over the incident and denies knowing anything about the retaliatory plan. State and federal investigations continue. Whether he knew or not, the tone in any administration comes from the top. It is hard to imagine that top aides in an administration with a culture of fair play would be tying up traffic in a political payback.

Another Democratic mayor, Steven Fulop of Jersey City, found a series of meetings with state commissioners the Christie administration had set up for him suddenly cancelled when he decided not to cross political lines and endorse the Republican governor.

Now come allegations from Hoboken's Democratic mayor, Dawn Zimmer, that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno delivered her a message from the governor - get on board with a development project favored by the administration if she wanted to access federal Sandy relief aid for her city. The lieutenant governor denies the charge.

That's a lot of smoke. Whether it comes from Gov. Christie's political aspirations going up in flames should become clear in the weeks and months to come.

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