CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Millions of Americans like feisty, spunky, popular New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- but his political career may be wrecked by a petty act of cruel partisan retribution. Here's the damning story that emerged Wednesday:
During the 2013 gubernatorial election, Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, N.J., endorsed Democratic challenger Barbara Buono against the wisecracking Republican governor.
Top aides on Christie's staff secretly punished Sokolich and his city by shutting two George Washington Bridge lanes into Fort Lee, causing a weeklong traffic tieup that delayed school buses, ambulances, fire trucks and police cars -- and left some commuters sitting in four-hour traffic jams.
At first, the port authority that operates the bridge said the lanes had been closed for a "traffic study." When suspicion arose that the closure had been political retaliation against Sokolich, the governor's office called the allegation "crazy."
But Democrats in New Jersey's legislature subpoenaed e-mails between Christie aides and insiders on the port authority -- and ugly proof was found.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly had written to David Wildstein, Christie's top appointee at the port authority. "Got it," Wildstein replied.
When the closure caused long school bus delays, someone in Christie's office messaged: "Is it wrong that I'm smiling?" Wildstein replied: "No." Then the writer said: "I feel badly about the kids. I guess." And Wildstein answered: "They are the children of Buono voters."
When Fort Lee's mayor complained to the port authority about the nightmare, Wildstein assured the governor's office privately that the complaint was met by "radio silence."
A different Christie aide wrote about Mayor Sokolich: "It will be a tough November for this little Serbian." Actually, the mayor is of Croatian descent.
An aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo finally halted the blockage of Fort Lee. Wildstein and another Christie appointee at the port authority resigned. Both have retained criminal defense lawyers.
It's difficult to imagine that Gov. Christie's top staff members pulled this political hatchet-job without his knowledge. Until Wednesday, he was a top GOP contender for president. Now his future is unsure, thanks to an inside look into the private realm of e-mails.
In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, when Christie gratefully welcomed Democratic President Obama, the governor seemed to be a leader who cared more about helping his state than about two-bit politics. But Wednesday's revelation damages that impression.