It was the climax of a great Lions-Cowboys game when, after the last minute win of the Cowboys, the camera showed the owner’s box as Jerry Jones was jumping up and down hugging folks. There was a familiar figure jumping up and down to get in on the hug with Jones. Like many people, however, I stopped and turned and asked “is that Chris Christie?” It turns out that there is only one Christie and he was in the box that night. How he got there is now raising ethical and legal questions.
First, to Christie’s credit, he has always admitted that he is a Cowboys fan as opposed to taking the predictable and popular route of choosing either the Jets or the Giants. Many in fact have pointed to his honestly as a distinction to Hillary Clinton who suddenly declared that she was a Yankees fan after deciding to run for office in New York. I like the fact that Christie keeps his teams separate from his politics. He is a Cowboys fan and if voters cannot deal with that then, to use the New Jersey vernacular, fuhgeddaboudit.
Now for the more serious question. Christie was flown to Texas, entertained and given unbelievable seats all at Jones’ expense. Christie insists that such gifts are permitted under New Jersey law because the state’s Code of Conduct says that governors “may accept gifts, favors, services, gratuities, meals, lodging or travel expenses from relatives or personal friends that are paid for with personal funds.”
A fair point to be sure. However, Jones is not just any friend. The governor of New York, along with the governor of New Jersey, controls the Port Authority. Jones has a stake in Legends Hospitality, a company which has been given a license to run an observation deck atop One World Trade Center operated by the Port Authority. The company’s One World Trade Center deal is expected to produce $875 million in revenue over 15 years for the Port Authority.
Frankly, it is not clear how serious this issue will prove. Jones does not appear to have been involved in the negotiations with the Port Authority for the observation deck contract. However, his family is referenced as a “significant” investor benefiting from the deal.
In addition to the luxury air travel and accommodations, the tickets alone for the seats were worth thousands of dollars — if they were for sale. At a critical game like this one, all tickets were at a premium.
The state law in my view gives Christie the edge. It is clearly written to allow governors to accept gifts from friends and I expect that this trip would not be seen as a direct violation even if it is viewed as violating the spirit of the law.
The separate question is whether there will be political impact like Howard Dean’s famous yell. Will Christie’s jump have the same impact as Dean’s yell? At the time, David Letterman said “Here’s what happened: The people of Iowa realized they didn’t want a president with the personality of a hockey dad.” The question is whether voters in the Northeast will want a president with the personality of a . . . well . . . Cowboy dad.”
What do you think?