Smoking Gun For Bridgegate? Might Rest With Losing Bidder In Fort Lee's $1B Hudson Lights Development
Someone that I know and respect who essentially ran a big Northeast state as a key aide to a certain governor likes to paint Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal like this:
The lane closures were a warning shot across the bow.
The idea that no one in the Christie administration, including Christie and chief politico David Samson, knows anything about why the lanes were closed is akin to a dead zebra being laid out near a watering hole and all the baboons sitting around the watering hole bleat out lies about how they have seen no lions. Not one!
Yet it's not credible. We all know: Where there's a dead carcass, there are predators.
The scenario that no lions wanted to come nosh on Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich's $1 billion dead zebra called Hudson Lights is not believable. The way we see it is simple:
Chris Christie and his top donors were angry. They had to be. Here was a billion-dollar development deal taking place in Fort Lee, promising developers and potential residents easy access to the George Washington Bridge, all under the direction of a Democratic Mayor, Mark Sokolich, who had finally put a long-dormant piece of supremely pricey real estate into position for hosting two 5-story buildings, plus retail space for restaurants, shops and movie theaters.
Fort Lee was going to kick ass, and be the epicenter of one of the biggest development deals in the state. And who was in charge of giving out all those contracts for architecture, engineering, bond work, legal work? Why, it would be Fort Lee's mayor. It's a lot of power and money attached to development deals like this. It stands to reason that other people, especially a governor and his re-election campaign staff who were drunk on power might have felt a little emboldened to show Fort Lee just who's boss.
New Jersey has had a lot of bosses, all of them a little scary, except Bruce Springsteen, who has also had a few things to sing about Chris Christies' Fort Lee Traffic Nightmare.
I know we are getting ahead of ourselves, since the smoking gun has yet to be found -- and subpoenas coming from the N.J. Legislature and other investigatory bodies are just getting ready to roll off the presses. The details behind Bridgegate will likely come out, once at least one key actor is given immunity in exchange for the down low on what went down. We know David Wildstein, the lane-closure-orderer as disclosed in released documents and emails -- wants immunity. He already asked the Jersey lawmakers, who had no authority at the time to grant him the freedom to sing in exchange for no jail time. But in due time ... it will come out.
Until then, it's just not possible. Chris Christie's staffers did not just decide to play a "prank" on Fort Lee. It's not plausible that they decided to light a match for the sheer "fun" of it only to have the house burn down. It's not plausible that there's no significant underlying reason for the stupid and dangerous lane closures, or that Gov. Chris Christie or New Jersey powerbroker David Samson, the Port Authority appointee, knew nothing about what was going on, or why.
I just don't buy it. It's not how things work, or don't work. The No. 1 rule of politics is "Follow The Money."
In the case of Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich's $1 billion development of the 16-acre tract of land directly near the George Washington Bridge, it is impossible to ignore this huge deal as a motivating factor for retribution.
When Tucker Development Corp. bought one half of the 16-acre site, Fort Lee still had to find a plan for the entire parcel. This is where the intrigue rests: Tucker owned half and decided to develop its portion. Meanwhile, Fort Lee was still looking for ideas, and bidders for the second parcel. To see who might have help goad Chris Christie and/or David Samson into screwing with local access lanes to the GW Bridge in Fort Lee, it might be time to look at the losing bids for the Hudson Lights deal. Did any of these people want revenge for not getting some of the action?
On Oct. 16, a month after Bridgegate lane closures, Sokolich and Tucker Development, along with other partners in the development project, broke ground in Fort Lee. Here's what Mayor Sokolich said:
“This administration is committed to forging business-friendly policies and partnerships aimed to position Fort Lee as a sought-after destination in the tri-state area for decades to come,” Mayor Sokolich said. “Hudson Lights is exactly the kind of large-scale, forward-thinking project that will help us realize that objective.”
That statement smacks of subliminal messaging. The mayor wants "business-friendly policies and partnerships" which could mean he doesn't want any of the old "business-as-usual" shenanigans that kept the 16-acre parcel in the hands of the mob and other undesirables for decades.
Here are the winners in Mayor Sokolich's development deal:
It begs the question: Which firms were the losers in this coveted and hard-won development Hudson Lights project? One of the firms that bid on developing the entire 16-acre parcel, which was split into two phases of development, was Silverstein Properties in conjunction with Taubman Centers. Silverstein is the World Trade Center developer. It was Silverstein's bid to develop the entire parcel, including the Tucker piece. But it appears that Tucker wanted to keep its piece and develop it themselves.
The New York Times outlined the deal in this 2009 article, including some minor details about what each bidder had in mind for the site.
"Tucker’s ownership of the eight acres on the west. ... Mr. Tucker made it clear in an interview that his company intended not to sell its property but to develop it — though perhaps in concert with partners,'' the Times reported in 2009.
Oddly, the NYTimes has not noted the development site as a potential issue in the strangest retribution scenario ever to involve the world's busiest bridge, a GOP presidential frontrunner and lane closures.
Larry Silverstein was a long-term client of David Samson.
Mayor Sokolich was called "an idiot" by one of Christie's key staffers, now fired. Mayor Sokolich has had some fun calling himself "the idiot" who has spearheaded Fort Lee's progressive moves, including this landmark development deal. The level of animosity in this "war" goes far deeper than anything having to do with a failure by Sokolich to endorse Chris Christie's re-election. That alone just is not a plausible reason for the timing and nature of the lane-closure retribution.
But a billion dollars in development, and all the contracts that come with it? That could get someone really "sauced," as Christie admits he sometimes gets over things having to do with Fort Lee and the GW Bridge.
It has also come to our attention that Chris Christie DOES know how to play bridge hardball. He did it with the Port Authority and Larry Silverstein over WTC subsidies.
From the New York Daily News:
New Jersey pols struck a $1 billion back-room deal with the Port Authority as their price for supporting a breakthrough pact to restore the World Trade Center, it was revealed Tuesday.
Is a former political and sports columnist who worked great cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. She lives New York.