By John Celock
A former top aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was described as “paranoid, insecure and erratic,” along with being a poor leader but not the architect of the Bridgegate scandal on Tuesday.
During testimony to a state legislative committee probing the closure of lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September, Christina Renna, a former Christie intergovernmental affairs staffer, painted her boss, Bridget Kelly, as unstable but yet said she did not design the scandal. Renna, under questioning from legislative Democrats, said that while she has theories on who came up with the closure plan declined to say who it was.
Kelly, who authored an email to Port Authority officials saying it was “time for some traffic in Fort Lee,” has been blamed for helping to orchestrate the scandal. A taxpayer funded report, commissioned by Christie last month, laid blame for the closure with Kelly, former Port Authority official David Wildstein and Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien, who was Kelly’s ex-boyfriend.
“One way I would describe Bridget is a little insecure. She relied heavily on other people to make decisions for her. That was absolutely the case until she became deputy chief of staff and she did not have other people to make decisions for her,” Renna told the committee about Kelly. “She looked for guidance a lot. She was not a decision maker. When she said something along the lines of that someone says it’s ok, that’s insecurity. Knowing Bridget she would not challenge anyone at her level or above. I don’t want to pile on to Bridget.”
Renna worked closely with Kelly during their time in the governor’s office. Prior to becoming deputy chief of staff, Kelly reported to Stepien who held the post. While Renna said she did not want to “pile on” about Kelly, she made another comment about Kelly’s emotional state.
“She was enormously overwhelmed and stressed with day to day life,” Renna said, citing Kelly being a single mother of four with a long commute.
Renna spent much of the hearing describing the work of the office, which was tasked with maintaining contact between the governor and New Jersey’s local and county governments. She said that the office did not keep a list of Democrats to reach out to for potential endorsements during the 2013 campaign or a written list of mayors not to return calls of.
Renna said that the office did have a list of mayors that was “hands off” but it was not in writing. She said it was “conversational” and was formed by higher ups. At the same time she said these mayors would receive calls back if they called first.
“Hands off mayors would be mayors IGA was not being proactive with,” Renna said. “We wouldn’t call and say ‘hey how are you doing.’ But if they called saying they had a pothole we’d call back.”
Renna also said that the department’s leadership; including Stepien and Kelly did not order staffers to be “nice” to anyone specifically.
Under questioning from Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville), Renna confirmed that staffers had formed private email accounts to conduct official business outside of the state network. She said that this included using Gmail accounts to use Google Documents spreadsheets for being able to work together. She said that the state server did not allow this.
Renna prompted a moment of laughter when she was asked why she waited a year to form her own personal account for state business. She was asked if she had a personal account prior and she said yes “for Banana Republic coupons.”
Renna told the committee that Kelly was upset by a meeting by an intergovernmental affairs regional director, Evan Ridley, who met with Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich (D). It has been suggested that the lane closure was made because of Sokolich’s decision not to endorse Christie for reelection last year over Democratic nominee Barbara Buono.
While Kelly was upset, Renna said she never questioned why Kelly was upset about the meeting.
“Bridget could sometimes be a little difficult in terms of sharing information,” Renna said. “I never wanted her to get the feeling that I was overstepping or asking for information I wasn’t privy to.”
Renna said that Kelly had asked her to delete emails regarding the lane closures, which she did but kept copies of. She characterized the request as “paranoid.” While Renna has communicated Kelly’s request following the disclosure of Kelly’s involvement, she said she did not let governor’s office attorneys know before hand because she feared Kelly.
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees) asked Renna why she feared a woman that Renna had described as not leading the department.
“She was my boss and she was senior staff,” Renna said.