Last Thursday New Jersey Governor Chris Christie backers, and there are still a few out there, were given a rare opportunity to celebrate when the Republican Governor’s Association, of which Christie serves as Chairman announced its largest-ever 2nd quarter fundraising totals, raising $26.6m. Christie has proved himself a far more competent party fundraiser than manager of his State, allowing some in the Republican Party to hail his comeback from the George Washington Bridge scandal. Those who are doing so seem to be avoiding the even darker cloud on the horizon for Christie, one which more even than the GWB scandal undercuts Christie’s claims to good governance and fiscal responsibility. This scandal too involves a bridge – the Pulaski Skyway.

For those who haven’t heard of the Skyway before (and really, if you’re not from the Tri-State Area, why would you have?) it is an elevated bridge connecting the northern New Jersey cities of Newark (of Corey Booker fame) and Jersey City. By late 2010, almost a year after Christie had been elected to office as Governor, Christie realized that he had a problem. Having beaten incumbent Governor John Corzine as much because his unwavering opposition to raising the gas tax, as because of Corzine’s immense unpopularity, and Christie’s reputation as a tough-on-corruption US Attorney Christie was faced by the prospect of having to renege on his campaign promise. Among the most prominent reasons for Christie’s dilemma was the crumbling state of the Pulaski Skyway.

However, Team Christie struck on a solution; he and his team decided to cancel a multi-billion rail project between New Jersey and Manhattan, jointly financed by the State and the Port Authority, with loan guarantees and funds provided by the federal government,  Christie may have canceled the billion dollar project in revenge against former Senator William Gormley who Christie let walk in a corruption probe. Gormley then worked furtively for Corzine. Gormley, it seems had a law firm making big bucks on the tunnel.  Then Christie sought to convince the Board of the Port to finance the Skyway refurbishment with the money they had raised for the purpose of financing the rail project. The Port, in short, would prove to be Christie’s “break in case of emergency” piggy bank.

Of course, there was a problem. The Port is legally barred from financing renovations outside their purview – that being the cross-state bridges and tunnels, the PATH subway, and the region’s airports. In fact, records uncovered by the office of the crusading District Attorney for Manhattan Cyrus Vance, Jr. appear to show Port Authority attorneys informing Christie that they did not believe the provision of Port funds to repair the Skyway to be legally permissible. Christie pressed on regardless, announcing his intention to use Port money to pay for repairs to the Skyway in early 2011, having conveniently avoided informing many Port administrators in advance.

Christie having put executives at the Port in an unwinnable situation bullied the Authority into acquiescing to his demands. On March 29, 2011 the Port unanimously authorized the project calling it, “access infrastructure enhancement” on the theory that the road and others like it “approach and feed into the Lincoln Tunnel”, which, though the Governor seemed not to care, the Pulaski Skyway most definitely does not.  The Lincoln Tunnel and the Pulaski Skyway are eight miles apart. However, in the absence of any investigation, the misappropriation of Port funds served only as an irritant to Christie opponents, particularly the Democratic Congressmen and Senators who had fought to pass the federal funding in the days leading up to the 2010 Republican wave.

Unfortunately for Christie  someone is looking. The Manhattan DA’s Public Corruption Unit, in conjunction with two SEC bond lawyers seem to be of the opinion that Christie’s actions were highly suspect, and very possibly criminal. That is the Christie legacy for New Jersey, cronyism, creative accounting practices, and self-serving corruption. When it comes down to it, maybe he is perfect for Washington.