As a real estate writer for the Zillow blog, we decided to write a piece about the city of Fort Lee, since the New Jersey city is the epicenter of the Chris Christie bridge lane closing scandal. And what we found in Fort Lee was Fred Sokolich, the real estate broker brother of Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. He answered the phone and gave me a good interview about the city and the bridge and the future of housing in Fort Lee.
Zillow is the online real estate site that delivers millions of data points on homes and property across the United States. In the blog, we write real estate news, so this Fort Lee incident sounded like a good way to feature the city. We had no idea that real estate development might be the underlying factor to Bridgegate, but apparently the wagons are circling around a key development parcel and critical access to that parcel via designated bridge lanes for Fort Lee.
Fred Sokolich, whose Sokolich Real Estate Enterprises is the No. 1 rental broker in northern N.J., said he was flummoxed at the way the land closures were used as retribution against Fort Lee.
In connection to the bridge scandal, many mentions have been made to Fort Lee's renaissance, which features a land parcel at the foot of the GWB , where a major, billion-dollar development is taking place. Hudson Lights is the name of the development. I think we will know a lot more about it in days to come.
What has been one of the more striking elements of the scandal is the idea that the lane closures that snarled traffic for four days in September was payback for Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing Republican Chris Christie for governor. Christie and Sokolich have been pretty forthright in saying that lack of endorsement was not an issue. Then what was?
Rachel Maddow suggested that fights over reappointments to the New Jersey State Supreme Court were possibly the reason, since Christie and Democratic State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, whose district includes Fort Lee, were in a death squabble over who would or would not be reappointed, or confirmed.
Well, maybe yes. Maybe no -- especially when there is now reason to cast a critical eye toward the billion-dollar development that Mayor Mark Sokolich has helped make happen after decades of Jersey-style corruption and shenanigans over the Hudson Lights parcel in Fort Lee, right under the GW Bridge.
From the Bergen Record, dated Sept. 16, 2013, immediately after the 4-day Bridgegate episode that, there's this report.
The long-awaited Hudson Lights luxury development in Fort Lee that was delayed this summer has secured financing for the project, which will get under way next month,officials said Monday.
Having covered politics in New York and Pennsylvania for the Albany Times Union and the Patriot-News, it certainly seems as if it is well within the bounds of PLAUSIBLE -- given the kinds of dollars and players involved in deals like these -- that this real estate development deal is exactly the kind of issue that would cause political operatives to go wilding on a retribution scheme.
For instance, bond deals are always fodder for jealousy and shenanigans, because of the fees involved in generating the financing. What about the bond deal for Hudson Lights, as secured by Tucker Construction via banking giant Sovereign Santander? It's just one place to scratch around on to see if somehow, there are threads to be pulled. Retribution like closing bridge lanes may sound like stupidity, as Christie tried to characterize it. But it could be far worse and intentional that stupidity.
The key, going forward, will be to outline the background of this real estate development project. Nothing of this magnitude gets done anywhere without a lot of hands in the pot, or a lot of actors feeling like they may or may not have gotten their share of the deal.
Fort Lee is not just an exit off the GW Bridge, as Fred Sokolich emphasized. It is a city. It is a real place. It sits directly on the Hudson, facing New York City, and provides easy access to one of the most expensive cities in the world for development and real estate. With the economic collapse of 2008 behind us, Fort Lee real estate is up 13 percent or more in the last year. It is going to go up another 4 percent in 2014, according to Zillow analytics. This is a playground not only for politicians and bridge commuters, but developers doing deals worth millions.
My interest in Fort Lee is only more piqued now. Steve Kornacki of MSNBC has apparently today linked the New Jersey players surrounding the GW Bridge scandal and the development deal.
But given the mafia connections to some aspects of the land now being developed courtesy of Mayor Mark Sokolich's Hudson Lights project, I'm glad I am currently in Seattle.
It was a little odd when Mayor Sokolich of Fort Lee went on all the news stations last Thursday and Friday after the Chris Christie press conference and apology tour of Fort Lee, saying the only thing he asked Christie for was that no more retribution take place.
Um, what? More? Why?
Stay tuned ...
Is a former political and sports columnist who worked great cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. She lives New York.