On paper, David Wildstein’s title at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was “Director of Interstate Capital Projects.” But many who worked there knew his real job - a post created just for him in 2010 - was to further Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s agenda inside the agency.
That role gave Wildstein an influence that outstripped his bureaucratic title. He led efforts to give New Jersey officials more sway over authority operations. And he was seen as having unsurpassed connections to Christie’s inner circle.
Now, the man who was known as the administration’s eyes and ears at the Port Authority may be the public’s best chance of knowing the truth behind a plan last summer to purposely create days of traffic gridlock in Fort Lee, N.J., by choking off local access to the George Washington Bridge.
Wildstein, who pushed through the closures after receiving an email from a Christie aide saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” has hinted in recent days that he might be willing to tell more about what the governor knew and when he knew it.
That break marks an abrupt reversal for an administration that defended Wildstein for years, even in the face of public and private criticism that he was over-politicizing the Port Authority, intimidating the staff and meddling in operations he didn’t oversee.
At the time, he had no background in transportation or public works. His previous job had been as the anonymous political blogger, known as Wally Edge, behind the influential website PolitickerNJ.
Under his leadership, the site became known for nonpartisan scoops on New Jersey political news. A former reporter there, Brian Murphy, said in an piece on the blog Talking Points Memo that Wildstein was “a fiercely loyal editor and advocate” - albeit one he never actually met. Wildstein was so secretive, even his employees didn’t know his identity.
While still a student, Wildstein ran for a spot on the local school board - a campaign marred by a teacher’s accusation that the teenager had tricked him into signing an endorsement letter published in the town newspaper. In the mid-1980s, he had a stint on the Livingston town council and served a year as its mayor.
Christie now says the two barely knew each other.
“David and I were not friends in high school,” Christie said in a news conference Jan. 9. “We didn’t travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don’t know what David was doing during that period of time … We went 23 years without seeing each other. And in the years we did see each other, we passed in the hallways.”
At the Port Authority, Wildstein became a central figure in a revived power struggle between people installed by the Christie administration and officials who reported back to the governor of New York.