LIVINGSTON, New Jersey (PIX11) – Among the new developments in the Chris Christie Bridgegate story is a major new detail exclusive to PIX11 News. A retired coach from Christie’s high school, whose widely distributed recent comments tied the New Jersey governor to the Port Authority official who oversaw the George Washington Bridge closure during their high school years, told PIX11 News that “what was written” about what he’d said “was untrue.”
“Wildstein was as far from Chris as I am knowing you,” said Tony Hope, 35-year veteran physical education teacher and baseball coach at Livingston High School, about Port Authority project director David Wildstein and Chris Christie.
“That reporter was looking for dirt and he couldn’t find any,” said Hope about the article titled, “Chris Christie Barely Knew David Wildstein? Their Old Coach Says Otherwise” that ran on The New Republic website last week.
The article was in response to a comment Christie made to PIX11 during his nearly two-hour news conference last week, in which he took responsibility for the September bridge closure, but denied being involved in its closure directly.
Instead, Christie said that he had been lied to by his deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, whom he fired. Emails and texts released from a legislative subpoena request show that Kelly had sent an email last August calling for Fort Lee’s access to the George Washington Bridge to be slashed, reportedly in retaliation for Ft. Lee mayor Mark Sokolich not endorsing Governor Christie’s re-election bid.
Kelly had sent the email to Wildstein, who carried out the order from September 9th to 12th. When PIX11 asked Governor Christie at his news conference last week about his relationship with Wildstein, whom he’s known since high school, Christie said, “David and I were not friends in high school. …We went 23 years without seeing each other, and when we did see each other, we passed in the hallways [of the State House].”
However, the Wall Street Journal produced pictures this week of Christie with Wildstein at the official 9/11 memorial service at Ground Zero last year, which took place while the closures to the bridge were underway. In the photographs, the former high school baseball captain and class president, Christie, and the former baseball team statistician, Wildstein, are in the same frame, but it’s an open question as to whether or not that means the two are friends, or close associates in the bridge shutdown.
That open question is one their former coach said he hopes to close. Tony Hope, whose coaching tenure included the 1980 season, when Christie led his team to the state championship, reiterated that Christie and Wildstein were never close and, to his knowledge, still are not, contrary to the perception given in the New Republic article in which he was quoted last week.
“I’m very upset and very embarrassed about what was written,” said Coach Hope, “because it was untrue.”
New polling data show that a majority of voters agree with the coach on this question of whether or not Christie telling the truth when he said, in his Thursday news conference, that he was not directly involved in the bridge closure.
A poll released Wednesday morning from Quinnipiac University shows that three times as many Jersey voters, 66 percent versus 22 percent, say that Christie did not personally order the traffic jam.
The Quinnipiac poll also shows that far more voters, 54 percent versus 40 percent, say that Christie is a leader, rather than a bully. That’s a higher percentage calling him a leader rather than a bully since before the Bridgegate scandal broke.
Late Wednesday afternoon, an NBC/Marist poll found that nearly 70 percent of Americans said the bridge closure scandal had not changed their opinion of Chris Christie.
The poll also found, however, that in a hypothetical presidential election with Chris Christie opposing Hillary Clinton, Clinton would win by a 13 point margin.