The George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal “does not define” New Jersey, embattled Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., said Tuesday in his annual “state of the state” address, in which he stressed the state’s bipartisan achievements. The governor also promised better leadership.
“I am the leader of this state and its people and I stand here today proud to be both. And always determined to do better,” he said.
The scandal shows no signs of abating -- New Jersey Democrats are investigating the role Christie and his staffers played in closing lanes on the bridge, causing a massive traffic jam, in an apparent act of political retribution.
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Unable to avoid the scandal, which has cast a pall over his governorship and his political future, Christie addressed it immediately in his speech Tuesday.
“The last week has certainly tested this administration,” he said after entering the state house to a standing ovation from both Democrats and Republicans. “Mistakes were clearly made. And as a result, we let down the people we are entrusted to serve. I know our citizens deserve better. Much better.”
Christie said his administration will cooperate with all “appropriate” inquiries to ensure this breach of trust does not happen again.
“I am the governor and I am ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch - both good and bad,” he added.
Christie noted that he’s presided over four balanced budgets, pension reform and tenure reform, all passed with bipartisan support.
“The best part of our turnaround in these past four years is because we have chosen to work together,” he said.
That bipartisanship stands in contrast to the evidence that members of Christie’s administration partially closed the George Washington Bridge in an act of political retribution against Fort Lee’s Democratic Mayor, Mark Sokolich.
More documents are likely to be released, making it unclear how the scandal will unfold. Christie apologized for the incident last week, insisting in a lengthy press conference that he had no prior knowledge of the seemingly-deliberate plans to back up traffic.
According to a Monmouth University poll released Monday, 51 percent of New Jersey adults think Christie has not been “completely honest” about what he knows about the incident. While his job approval rating remains high at 59, that’s down from 65 percent last month. Before Superstorm Sandy, his approval rating stood at 53 percent.
In addition to the investigations into the bridge scandal, Christie is facing a separate federal investigation into the use of Sandy relief funds for New Jersey tourism ads that featured the governor and his family.