STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave an epic press conference yesterday. It went on for almost two hours, almost as long as the traffic jams that prompted him to meet with the press in the first place. Governor Christie denied knowing about the plan carried out by members of his staff to deliberately clog traffic going from Fort Lee, New Jersey over a bridge to Manhattan.
The mayor of Fort Lee says he's taking the governor at his word, but as reporter Sarah Gonzales from New Jersey Public Radio explains, not all residents are convinced.
SARAH GONZALES, BYLINE: City council members in Fort Lee got together with Mayor Mark Sokolich to watch Governor Christie's remarks on the lane closures together. Christie said he didn't know that his staff orchestrated the traffic problem.
GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: I am heartbroken that someone who I permitted to be in the circle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust.
GONZALES: Internal emails show that a top Christie aide told officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to cause traffic problems in Fort Lee for what appears to be political retribution. The mayor of Fort Lee did not endorse Christie for reelection. Lanes to the George Washington bridge were closed for nearly a week without notice to police, commuters or city officials.
And it started on the first day of school in September. Fourteen-year-old Jennifer Yoon is a student at Fort Lee High. She passes a road that overlooks the George Washington Bridge on her walk to school and says she has never seen so much traffic.
JENNIFER YUHN: It was really noisy and I remember there were so many cars and so much traffic and so much traffic the cars wouldn't move an inch.
GONZALES: She said her classmates didn't get to school until the middle of the day, same with her teachers.
YUHN: One of the teachers couldn't make it till, like, third period.
GONZALES: Governor Christie personally apologized to Mayor Sokolich, who now says he believes that Christie has no involvement in the lane closures. After the meeting, Christie shook hands with residents who gathered outside the municipal building.
CHRISTIE: Sir, I appreciate that very much.
GONZALES: Some were there to thank Christie for apologizing, but others came to air their grievances. Fort Lee resident Vadim Ratinov says he was expecting more from the governor's visit.
VADIM RATINOV: I was expecting that he's going to say something to the residents. Well, at least some kind of apology to the public for the traffic that was caused here, because he went in there and just came back out, got into his car and left.
GONZALES: He says he's still skeptical that the governor had no involvement.
RATINOV: I don't buy that he just was so, you know, blind that he had no idea that this was going on.
GONZALES: Elaine Scherzer, a New York City resident who was stuck in traffic during one of the lane closures, says Christie has to be accountable for his aides who ordered the traffic problems.
ELAINE SCHERZER: Absolutely disgusting what they did to the people of New Jersey, and that should never have been allowed to happen.
GONZALES: The city of Fort Lee elected Christie in November and many residents like Julio Lasvall, who voted for Christie, say they want to believe that Christie has a clean conscience.
JULIO LASVALL: You know what? I don't know - I hope that he has no involvement in it directly, so I think that if he doesn't, which is my hopes, that coming out like that and apologizing initially right off the bat is the right thing to do, and then assisting in the investigation that, you know, everything gets cleared up.
GONZALES: For now, they say there's not much else Christie can do, except fire the people involved in the controversy. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Gonzales. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.