At 20,000 words, Chris Christie’s marathon press conference yesterday was long enough to be a novella. And one of its more remarkable moments came when Christie sought to distance himself from David Wildstein, the ally at the center of the George Washington Bridge scandal.
Sure, the $150,000-per-year political appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was Christie's "eyes and ears" at the huge agency, with a "direct line" to the governor's office, and had engineered the now-notorious September closure of two local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge. And yeah, he had been described in countless reports as Christie’s buddy from Livingston High School, a detail that served to raise the likelihood that Christie had a pretty good inkling of just what was going on with the lane closures.
But during his two hours at the podium yesterday, Christie pushed back against this perception by telling the world that Wildstein was no chum of his:
Well, let me just clear something up, OK, about my childhood friend David Wildstein. It is true that I met David in 1977 in high school. He's a year older than me. David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school. I mean, I had a high school in Livingston, a three-year high school that had 1,800 students in a three-year high school in the late '70s, early 1980. I knew who David Wildstein was. I met David on the Tom Kean for governor campaign in 1977. He was a youth volunteer, and so was I. Really, after that time, I completely lost touch with David. 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.
In other words: David Wildstein, are you kidding me? Different lunch table, dudes.
Except, like so much in Christie’s explanation for what happened with the retaliatory lane closures, it may not be as simple as that. I recently spoke with Tony Hope, the former coach of the Livingston High baseball team, the Lancers. He recalled Christie’s years as the team’s catcher. He also recalled that David Wildstein was right there on the team with Christie:
David Wildstein was our baseball statistician. He was a very quiet, unassuming, brilliant kid. He’d do the baseball stats like you wouldn’t believe. He gave you the stats from the previous week’s games, he had a brilliant mind for numbers and figures….And he was doing it without any of the computers you have today. He’s doing it all with a calculator, none of the fancy technology…You know, averages against righthander and against lefthander, that sort of thing…He knew the game but he wasn’t at all a player. I mean, not at all.
Yes, young Wildstein was into sabermetrics before it was cool, sitting on the bench and providing the Lancers with data that helped make them one of the best teams in the state. The classic loyal geek. And decades later, he was still doing what he could behind the scenes to help the big man on campus, Chris Christie. Except it was again in Christie’s interest to look right past him. “Didn't travel in the same circles.” "Not even acquaintances." "Passed in the wallways." Nice knowing you, kid. Or not knowing you.