Bridget Kelly, the former Christie aide who sent the infamous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email that energized the Bridgegate hearings, is making a return to public life with a run for Bergen County clerk.
Kelly, 48, enters into the race with a slew of disadvantages.
Though the U.S. Supreme Court vacated her conviction last May and those of others caught in the scandal, it did so because no money changed hands, as required for federal-program and wire fraud charges on which Kelly and others were convicted.
“The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing — deception, corruption, abuse of power,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote. “But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct.”
Voters in Bergen are unlikely to forget her role in the scandal, which put a knife in the heart of Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential ambitions and sent his job approval ratings into a tumble that left them at just 14%, the lowest for a New Jersey governor in recorded history.
Democratic Clerk John Hogan quickly sought to tie Kelly to Christie, for whom she was deputy chief of staff for intergovernmental affairs.
“Bridget Kelly is entitled to try and get her life back together, and I wish her the best in that regard,” he said. “But the people here in Bergen County who had to deal with the Bridgegate scandal up close are never going to forgive her role in punishing them to further Chris Christie’s vindictive agenda.”
Even if they do, her position on a Republican ticket may prove an impossible hurdle in a Bergen County that has grown into a Democratic stronghold over the last decade.
As of Jan. 1, there are 113,527 more Democrats than Republicans registered in Bergen. There are only 146,868 card-carrying Republicans there, and the party last won a countywide race in 2013, when voters there sent Republicans John Felice and Maura DeNicola back to what was then the county’s Freeholder Board.
In the year’s since, Republicans have increasingly begun to look like an endangered species in Bergen, a county that backed Gov. Phil Murphy, who will appear at the top of this year’s Democratic ticket, by about 15 points in 2017.
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez won the county by a narrower 12-point margin in 2018, and U.S. Sen Cory Booker (D-Newark) took it by nearly 18 points last year.
The New Jersey Globe scheduled a call with Kelly through a spokesperson for 11 a.m. Monday. Neither Kelly nor the spokesperson kept the appointment.
New Jersey Globe Editor David Wildstein pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy for his role in the Bridgegate scandal in 2015. The Supreme Court vacated the plea and dismissed the charges. He did not edit this story prior to its publication.