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January 9th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History

The Chris Christie Scandal You Haven’t Heard of Yet But Should Know About

As a blogger whose site is inspired by the look and lore of the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, I immediately began following with great interest the political scandal involved in the mysterious closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge. In the month since I first posted about it, the episode has mushroomed in to a full-blown scandal, especially with yesterday’s revelations that aides close to Chris Christie deliberately targeted the mayor of Fort Lee for petty political retribution. In light of this news, I am urging all visitors to The Great Gray Bridge to read this October 10, 2013 story by the New York Times’ Michael Powell, which chronicles the quashing of a lesser-known criminal case against a close Christie ally. Like #GWBridgeGate, this story deserved much more attention before New Jersey voters chose their next governor last November, but that didn’t happen. Again, as with #GWBridgeGate, Powell’s story should be much more widely read and shared, as evidence of the climate of casual and criminal corruption surrounding Chris Christie and his administration. Below is the opening from Powell’s lengthy article. You may read it all here.

“Prosecutors sent tremors through rural Hunterdon County when they announced a sweeping indictment of the local Republican sheriff and her two deputies in 2010. The 43-count grand jury indictment read like a primer in small-town abuse of power. It accused Sheriff Deborah Trout of hiring deputies without conducting proper background checks, and making employees sign loyalty oaths. Her deputies, the indictment charged, threatened one of their critics and manufactured fake police badges for a prominent donor to Gov. Chris Christie. When the charges became public, the indicted undersheriff, Michael Russo, shrugged it off. Governor Christie, he assured an aide, would ‘have this whole thing thrown out,’ according to The Hunterdon County Democrat. That sounded like bluster. Then the state killed the case. On the day the indictment was unsealed, the state attorney general, a Christie appointee, took over the Hunterdon prosecutor’s office. Within a few months, three of its most respected veterans lost their jobs there, including the one who led the case.”

Powell also reports that one of the prosecutors unfairly dismissed in the case, Bennett A. Bailyn, “has filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming that the attorney general killed the indictment to protect prominent supporters of the governor.” With the GWB scandal growing bigger by the week, it’ll be fascinating to see if Bailyn’s case can advance through the courts so he can get justice and the public can learn more about this troubling incident.

Please read Powell’s article and share it in your social networks.

 

 

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December 11th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History; Urban Life & New York City

Chris Christie—Playing Petty Politics over the Great Gray Bridge

January 9, 2014 Update: In the month since I first posted about the mysterious closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge, the episode has mushroomed in to a full-blown scandal, especially with yesterday’s revelations that aides to Governor Christie deliberately targeted the mayor of Fort Lee for political retribution. In light of this news, I am urging all visitors to The Great Gray Bridge to read this October 10, 2013 story by the New York Times’ Michael Powell, which chronicles the quashing of a lesser-known criminal case against a close Christie ally. Like #GWBridgeGate, this story deserved much more attention before New Jersey voted for governor last November, but that didn’t happen. Again, as with #GWBridgeGate, Powell’s story should be much more widely read and shared, as evidence of the climate of casual and criminal corruption surrounding Chris Christie and his administration. Below is the opening from Powell’s lengthy article. You may read it all here.

“Prosecutors sent tremors through rural Hunterdon County when they announced a sweeping indictment of the local Republican sheriff and her two deputies in 2010. The 43-count grand jury indictment read like a primer in small-town abuse of power. It accused Sheriff Deborah Trout of hiring deputies without conducting proper background checks, and making employees sign loyalty oaths. Her deputies, the indictment charged, threatened one of their critics and manufactured fake police badges for a prominent donor to Gov. Chris Christie. When the charges became public, the indicted undersheriff, Michael Russo, shrugged it off. Governor Christie, he assured an aide, would ‘have this whole thing thrown out,’ according to The Hunterdon County Democrat. That sounded like bluster. Then the state killed the case. On the day the indictment was unsealed, the state attorney general, a Christie appointee, took over the Hunterdon prosecutor’s office. Within a few months, three of its most respected veterans lost their jobs there, including the one who led the case.”

A Power Play Goes Awry

As a blogger whose site is inspired by the look and lore of the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, I’m following with great interest the current political scandal unfolding around the administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who before becoming chief executive of the state was a US Attorney in the state. If you’re just catching up to this bit of tawdry political theater, it seems probable that Christie and minions of his unleashed a vendetta against Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, NJ, the small city at the western end of the busy, busy span.

Multiple news reports, including an audio and written piece by WNYC reporter Andrea Bernstein and this NY Times article suggest that the trouble began when Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, declined to endorse Christie in his recent re-election. Back in September, as the gubernatorial campaign unfolded,  local access lanes to the tollbooths approaching the bridge from Fort Lee were closed without explanation. Little notice was given to bridge or Port Authority officials; those who were told anything say they were informed the lane closures were supposedly for a traffic study, a claim that since been debunked. They were also told not to report it or discuss the matter with colleagues. The result, during the first week of public school with traffic peaking right after Labor Day? This is how the Times reports it:

“Cars backed up, the town turned into a parking lot, half-hour bridge commutes stretched into four hours, buses and children were late for school, and emergency workers could not respond quickly to the day’s events, which included a missing toddler, a cardiac arrest and a car driving into a building.”

The  person behind the scenes pulling the strings was David Wildstein, a close friend to Governor Christie who has now resigned from his state job, lamely claiming he doesn’t want to be a “distraction.” Beyond that, he declined comment to reporters. Meanwhile, Christie denies any role in the episode. Democrats in the NJ legislature smell a rat. They are subpoenaing officials and holding hearings, trying to get to the bottom of the stupid, petty vendetta against Mayor Sokolich.

A month before Christie’s re-election, which came by a wide margin over his Democratic challenger, the excellent NY Times reporter Michael Powell published a story that should have gotten a great deal more attention than it did. The Quashing of a Case Against a Christie Ally detailed how in 2010 a serious public corruption case against local law enforcement authorities in NJ’s Hunterdon County was halted with no apparent reason and local prosecutors who had prepared the case against County Sheriff Deborah Trout and an underling were fired, on orders that came from a longtime Christie ally in the state government. Having read that story, I’m not at all surprised that Chris Christie may have pulled such a petty stunt as this new one, or countenanced the conduct. Powell’s story includes this paragraph:

“There is no evidence that Mr. Christie ordered the dismissal of the charges against Sheriff Trout. But his attorney general, Paula T. Dow, who had served as his counsel at the United States attorney’s office, supervised the quashing of the indictment and the ouster of the respected prosecutors. Sheriff Trout had political ties to the administration. She led an association of county law enforcement officials that backed the candidacy of Mr. Christie and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who had previously served as sheriff in Monmouth County. Ms. Guadagno and Ms. Trout exchanged chatty e-mails, according to court records. After the election, Ms. Guadagno thanked Sheriff Trout for sending her deputies to work on the campaign. Ms. Trout left office in 2010. But the case and the Christie administration’s role in killing it have surfaced again because one of the dismissed prosecutors, Bennett A. Barlyn, has filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming that the attorney general killed the indictment to protect prominent supporters of the governor. In August, a New Jersey judge ordered the attorney general to release the grand jury records to Mr. Barlyn, who said the records would detail the considerable strength of the now-dead case. The state has appealed the decision. “I was frog-marched out of the prosecutor’s office,” Mr. Barlyn said, ‘because I objected to the dismissal of a viable case against an important local official.’”

As Christie revels in his 30-point win last November and moves ahead with what I expect to be a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination I’m sure there will be efforts to dismiss this affair over the GWB and people will joke about corruption being a common affair in New Jersey. However, I believe that the deliberate instigation of traffic jams on the bridge has a potent resonance that just about everyone can relate to, including people who don’t follow politics closely.  I hope that media stay on the climate of casual corruption that has infected the Christie administration.

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October 13th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Enjoying the Little Red Lighthouse Fall Festival

Fireboat spray 3Hundreds of New Yorkers found their way to Fort Washington Park yesterday, underneath the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, for the 21st Little Red Lighthouse Fall Festival, co-sponsored by the NYC Parks Dept and the New York Restoration Project (NYRP). The latter is Bette Midler’s organization, aka MillionTrees.org. I had no idea the festival’s been going on every year since 1992! I biked up there and had a fun couple of hours, marveling at the big crowd, including many families with young children, all enjoying a great NYC landmark, one that I’ve cherished a long time, though usually alongside only just a few other visitors to the site, not dozens.

As is the custom on the second Saturday of each month from May-October, the little red lighthouse was also opened to visitors yesterday, and long lines of people waited a turn to get inside and see for themselves this treasure of naval architecture and maritime history. I had toured the lighthouse and taken many photographs in August and September, and so happily left it to other visitors yesterday. Booths at the festival included such exhibits as Urban Park Rangers (a career I’m sure I would enjoy); NYRP and their Million Trees initiative; and such local businesses in Washington Heights, the neighborhood adjoining Fort Washington Park, as Word Up Bookstore and Storefront Science. Festival organizers had also printed poster-sized reproductions of Lynd Ward’s art from Hildegarde H. Swift’s classic children’s book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, and from a stage that earlier sported a quite good cajun & roots band called The Amigos, the book was read aloud with help from teenagers from BuildOn.org and an NYC Parks Dept official. I was amused when the official announced the youth group as Move On, which sounded odd–it seemed a bit far afield for MoveOn.org–and the kids quickly corrected her, saying, “We’re from Build On!”

For a finale, an FDNY fireboat cruised up the Hudson, drifted close to the shoreline and then turned about so spectators could see the vessel from every angle. And then the crew provided a great water exhibition, shooting great arcs of water from the boat’s hoses and spouts, creating transparent scrims of water shimmering against the blue sky and bright sunshine. It was a splendid sight and an enjoyable festival. Below are my photographs from the delightful day.

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March 26th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Some Early Spring Hudson River Views

Looking northward to the GGBFollowing many days of late winter gloom and cold winds off the Hudson River where I regularly ride my bike things brightened up a bit today. With temps edging over 50 degrees and light to moderate winds, I wasn’t forced to don the usual gear I’ve been wearing on my rides since the fall. More lightly clad than usual, I pedaled north along the river, stopping for a break about even with 140th Street. Perched atop an old picnic table I read my current book, Heretics: Adventures With the Enemies of Science by British journalist Will Storr; phoned my sister to wish her a happy Passover; and took these pics of the Hudson and the Jersey side of the river. Even with the noticeable warming, there were still a lot gray, glowering clouds hanging low in the sky, but maybe now we’re in for a spell of fair weather.

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April 16th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Urban Life & New York City

A Spring Sailing Around Manhattan

My wife and son and I had been wanting to see New York’s five boroughs from the water, so last Friday we took the Circle Line cruise around Manhattan, which does offer views of each borough. Unfortunately, it was a disappointment. We arrived 45 minutes early for the 11:30 AM sailing, only to find that all outdoor seats on our boat had already been taken. Worse, the guide on our boat was a pompous jerk who droned on ceaselessly during our 3-hour circumnavigation of the island. He had no feel for the history of the city; scolded passengers like a control-obsessed school teacher (“Don’t stand there!”) and was fascinated only with money. (“An apartment in that building sold for $20 million last year.”) Fortunately, about halfway through the cruise, I found us three seats on the open deck, and Kyle, Ewan, and I escaped the guide’s physical presence, if not his amplified voice. From this perspective, we were able to view Upper Manhattan, Sputen Duyvil, the waterway that connects the Harlem River to the Hudson, and the little red lighthouse as we sailed beneath the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge. We also were able to ID our own apartment building from the river, a neat trick.

The best part of the afternoon came when we got home and downloaded the photos each of us took turns snapping during the cruise. Even if the boat ride regrettably didn’t feature much of the timeless magic we identify with New York’s waterways, harbor, and shoreline, such as that seen in the 1920s short film “Manhatta,” it was a grand day and we took away some great images, many of which are included here.  // many pictures following . . .

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December 10th, 2011

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Urban Life & New York City

How This Blog Got its Name

In a previous blog post, “An 80th Birthday Makeover for The Great Gray Bridge,” dear reader, you will note I’ve borrowed the name for that entry, and the name for this very blog, from a nickname for the George Washington Bridge first used decades ago. My source is the 1942 children’s book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge written by Hildegarde H. Swift and illustrated by Lynd Ward, creator of the remarkable wordless novel, God’s Man, which was published in 1929, the very week of the stock market crash. It is a source of joy and pride for me that I am able to borrow from that classic the name for this blog “spanning urban life, books, music, culture, current events.” Below are some pertinent photos I’ve taken of the bridge, the lighthouse, the river, and the grounds surrounding them on the Manhattan side of the Hudson. I’d understand if some of these scenes surprise you with just how sweet, bucolic, and pretty the shoreline of upper Manhattan really is. That’s New York City, for you, full of surprises for the eager observer.

Two final notes:

  • The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge remains in print today;
  • Thank you to web designer and friend, Harry Candelario, who adapted one of my photographs for the backdrop art for the home page of The Great Gray Bridge.

All photographs: Philip Turner

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December 10th, 2011

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; News, Politics & History; Urban Life & New York City

An 80th Birthday Makeover for The Great Gray Bridge

Opening to traffic in 1931, the George Washington Bridge is for the first time going to get a refit of a key component of its structural integrity. According to a Dec. 9 New York Times article, the 592 signature “vertical suspender ropes,”

Note the rust creeping in and around one of the 592 vertical suspender ropes on the GW Bridge. Photo credit: Benjamin Norman for the New York Times

each one made of 283 individual strands of steel wire, will be replaced over the next eight years. Each rope–the term engineers use for them, though they are not made of hemp, but steel–is a different length and weight, depending on where they fit to one of the four main cables that form the horizontal necklaces that arc along the entire length of the bridge. The lightest of the vertical suspender ropes weighs 1,500 pounds, and the heaviest 10,000 pounds. These shots by New York Times photographer show what’s at stake in replacing the ropes.

This view shows several of the vertical suspender ropes connecting at the top of the photo to the arching stell cables. Photo credit: Benjamin Norman for the New York Times

From a favorite college professor long ago I heard that the French Catholic theologian and philosopher Jacques Maritain swore that the sight of the George Washington Bridge and Manhattan, as seen traveling south on the Henry Hudson Highway, was the most breathtaking view he ever experienced. Reading about this essential renovation of such a key piece of our urban infrastructure, I am mindful that the stock market crash of 1929, might’ve delayed the engineering and construction of The Great Gray Bridge, but that didn’t happen. I’m grateful that the span across the Hudson did not fall victim to the Great Depression. Considering the resistance to creating and even maintaining infrastructure among many right-wing politicians today, I am also grateful that the Port Authority of NY and NJ have shown the foresight and good judgment to undertake this key renovation now, despite the economic conditions prevailing today.