The Evolution of Chris Christie’s Crisis Management
January 9, 2014
January 9, 2014
New Jersey Governor and potential presidential hopeful Chris Christie is no stranger to crisis communication. He’s snapped at a concerned parent of public school students while fielding questions on television. Christie infuriated GOP stalwarts as he lauded President Barack Obama and his response to Hurricane Sandy during the final months of the 2012 presidential campaign. Despite alienating many key constituencies, he’s earned the respect of voters across the political spectrum for his gruff, tell-it-like-it-is persona.
But Christie has learned that humor and aggression might not solve every crisis.
In early December, questions were raised about a “traffic study” that reduced traffic lanes onto the George Washington Bridge by two-thirds, causing significant delays in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a borough whose mayor who did not endorse Christie’s reelection campaign. Christie’s staff also did not notify local officials so they could not prepare for the traffic mess. As detailed by WNYC’s Matt Katz, Christie answered the question with his usual gruff tone.
“I worked the cones, actually. Unbeknownst to everybody I was actually the guy out there, in overalls and a hat. You cannot be serious with that question, Matt!”
A couple of weeks later, after Port Authority officials testified the lane closures may have been illegal, Christie knew he was in trouble. He struck a contrite note, apologized, said one of his appointees would resign for his poor choices, and declared the matter moot.
On January 8, subpoenaed Christie senior staff emails revealed that members of Christie’s staff had ordered the “traffic study” as political retribution. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” created a million snarky Tweets and tabloid headlines. Christie didn’t help himself by canceling a public appearance and releasing a short statement seven hours after the email story broke.
Going into hiding isn’t reinforcing the brand of no-nonsense politician that Christie has built. Instead, it fanned the controversy further and gave reporters time to find examples of public safety hazards created by the traffic delays since they had nothing to report from the governor’s office. Christie abandoned most of the sarcasm and bravado as he managed the fallout at a press conference. Striking a sincere tone of apology is the only way he can keep his higher political aspirations alive.