By Lauren Minore
“What happened at the George Washington Bridge was not a good thing. I hope it was my lowest moment of my life,” a remorseful David Wildstein, former senior official in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said in an interview with The Rider News.
Wildstein reflected on his involvement in the Bridgegate scandal during an event hosted by the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics on Oct. 7.
Wildstein was appointed by former Gov. Chris Christie to his position in the Port Authority in 2010.
Under Wildstein’s orders, two of the three lanes which provide access to the Fort Lee, New Jersey, entrance of the George Washington Bridge connecting to New York City were unexpectedly closed on Sept. 9-13, 2013. It resulted in massive traffic delays and congestion in Fort Lee.
No local government officials, emergency responders or other Port Authority officials were alerted prior to the lane closures.
In 2015, Wildstein plead guilty to two federal felony counts of conspiracy. In 2017, he was sentenced to three years of probation and 500 hours of community service. He was prohibited from seeking or accepting employment with any government agency and fined $10,000.
“I reflect on it every single day. It was an incredibly stupid thing. I sometimes think, ‘How did I do that? How did I ever think that was a good idea? What could I have been thinking,’” Wildstein said. “But part of it too, part of moving on, is to just accept responsibility and you’ve gotta tell the truth, to just take what’s coming to you. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
A self-proclaimed “politics nerd,” Wildstein said his first gig in the New Jersey political realm was in the early 1970s, where he served as a legislative aide to a state senator.
“I had volunteered on his campaign when I was 12 and he gave me a job that was, essentially, taking all the bills that were introduced in the legislature and putting them in order,” Wildstein said. “I was paid $100 a year, and I was paid in advance by the state, and I thought that was how the world was, they just paid you in advance.”
Wildstein also said he would often ask for rides and skip school to sit on the floor of the Assembly and Senate.
Wildstein dismissed rumors that he did not know Christie growing up. They both attended Livingston High School and were often found in social situations together, according to Wildstein.
“I took Chris Christie to his first political rally, he was 14 and I was 15, I knew him, we weren’t close friends, but I knew him,” he said. “To say he didn’t know me wasn’t true.”
However, Wildstein said he is no longer in contact with the former governor.
“If you ask him, he never knew me to begin with,” Wildstein said.
Wildstein also said he still maintains close relationships with many of his former coworkers in the Christie administration.
“One of the things I have found is, once [Christie] left office, a lot of people were no longer afraid of him,” he said. “There were some people who didn’t like him to begin with, but he was the governor.”
Wildstein refused to specify his current political affiliation, but did admit he was no longer registered as a Republican.
“I was not registered with either party, and of course, I’m on probation, so I no longer have… a vote,” he said. “I hope that’ll be restored by the next election.”
In his free time over the past few years post-conviction, Wildstein said he tried taking up a new hobby: playwriting.
“I took classes and I wrote some plays and had a couple of them performed with professional actors, and my plays were terrible, absolutely terrible,” Wildstein said. “Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve written is really bad until you’ve watched real actors performing your words and I realized I want to do what I think I’m good at.”
Instead, Wildstein launched his new political reporting website, New Jersey Globe, in 2018.
This was not his first time, however, combining his love of politics with journalism. Wildstein also founded political reporting website PoliticsNJ, since renamed PolitickerNJ, in 2000, while working for his family’s textile-manufacturing business. He famously wrote for his site using the pseudonym “Wally Edge,” after former New Jersey Gov. Walter Edge.
“There was a challenge, there was a desire for some redemption, there was a frustration with the current media landscape, there was my own experience, having dealt with this,” he said. “But I didn’t know if [New Jersey Globe] was gonna take off or not.”
Wildstein has agreed to return to campus once the United States Supreme Court appeal review of the case is closed.
For now, Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute, said that he was grateful to Wildstein for deciding to share his experiences first at Rider and with 125 guests in attendance.
“I’m really pleased with how open and candid David was able to be with us. He answered all of my questions and every one from the audience,” he said. “Both he and the audience really seemed to enjoy themselves, so much so that when he offered to come back once the Supreme Court appeal is resolved, he got a very enthusiastic response. I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback.”
Senior political science major Alexis Bailey also said that Wildstein gave his honest thoughts on his role in Bridgegate.
“It was interesting to see how remorseful he really was,” she said. “I look forward to hearing what he has to say when he comes back to campus and can speak even more freely about this major event in his life and New Jersey political history.”
In his life post-Bridgegate, Wildstein offered some advice for those facing life-altering accusations.
“I tell people that, if you’re ever accused of something and you didn’t do it, you should fight like hell to protect your reputation, you should fight for your innocence,” Wildstein said. “But if you’re accused of something and you did it, there’s no other path but to say, I did this and I’m sorry, and I accept responsibility and I will tell the truth about every aspect of what happened. Only then can you look to move on.”