In fact, no one who worked with or spent more time with all of the key figures in the Bridgegate and Hoboken cases than Rebisz, a complete unknown until stories about the Mastro interview memos started showing up on Google yesterday afternoon. It is the omnipresent Rebisz who connects the dots in Bridgegate and the Hoboken case.
Rebisz worked with Stepien and Christie political consultant Michael DuHaime on the unsuccessful GOP presidential campaign of Rudy Giuliani, Mastro’s political mentor. He worked as legislative liaison under Stepien and with Kelly in the first months of the Christie administration before losing his job after clashing with Kelly.
After working on an unsuccessful New York U.S. Senate race, Wildstein hired Rebisz at the Port Authority, where he spent two years working closely with Baroni while serving as a liaison and doling out largesse to local mayors. He helped get handheld crank radios and shuttle buses for Fort Lee’s Mayor Sokolich, who told him that “he knew to only ask the Port Authority for one thing a year,” Rebisz said.
Wildstein and Stepien had been good friends since they had worked together on Bob Franks’ U.S. Senate campaign in 2000 -- before Wildstein became the anonymous blogger Wally Edge on what became the PolitickerNJ.com website. Rebisz said Wildstein would call “Trenton,” meaning Stepien, when he needed the governor’s office to sign off on something important. It was during that time that Wildstein put together a secret working group at the Port Authority to plan the campaign for the massive 2011 toll hike, but Rebisz does not refer to it.
Early in 2013, Stepien recruited Rebisz to rejoin the governor’s office as Sandy regional director for 11 Bergen, Hudson, and Middlesex municipalities that had been flooded in the superstorm. It is in that capacity that Rebisz, along with other senior state officials, meets with Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer in late January and mid-March to discuss flood mitigation issues.
And it is Rebisz who plans Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s tour of the Hoboken Shop-Rite reopening on May 13 that ends with a tense meeting in the parking lot during which Zimmer contends Guadagno threatened to hold up Sandy aid for Hoboken unless she agreed to support a development for the Rockefeller Group that was represented by Samson’s law firm and Christie reportedly wanted built.
While he worked for Kelly’s deputy, Christine Genovese Renna, “Rebisz assumed Kelly’s decisions and orders were coming from Stepien,” the report said. “When Stepien left the governor’s office to work on the governor’s reelection campaign, Rebisz recalled that Kelly would say that she had to check with “Bridgewater” -- meaning the campaign or Stepien -- before approving certain things.”
Rebisz also attested to the politics of retribution against those who failed to come through with expected endorsements of Christie’s reelection that pervaded Christie’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs -- an attitude that led the governor’s office to have cabinet-level officials cancel a planned day of high-level meetings with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and is believed to be the impetus for the GWB lane closures to punish Sokolich.
“When Rebisz was asked whether he had any conversations with Mayor Zimmer regarding her decision not to endorse Gov. Christie, Rebisz responded no, but that at some point, in or around Labor Day 2013, Renna told him not to bend over backwards for Mayor Zimmer, which Rebisz explained meant that he should not out of his way to help her, and that Mayor Zimmer wasn’t going to endorse the governor,” the report said.
Rebisz said that he continued to treat Zimmer the same, although Kelly -- with authorization from Christie -- specifically told Zimmer not to show up at a Christie event that fall.
The Mastro report asserted that Christie’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs “functioned very effectively during the first three years of the governor’s first term, both in terms of responsiveness and nonpartisanship” and alluded only obliquely to “aberrational behavior at Kelly’s direction” during the 2013 reelection year.
However, Renna’s interview made it clear that it was Stepien, who had headed the office since 2010, who created the list of 100 targeted mayors to cultivate for support long before the 2013 election and expanded that list to 117 after Sandy.
Renna reported that Intergovernmental Affairs “staff would receive mandatory directives along the lines of ‘Do not rush to return this mayor’s phone call. Sometimes IGA staff received a directive along the lines of ‘no need to call to check in’ with a local elected official, which was enough to send a message to the local elected official.”
The influence of the Intergovernmental Affairs office extended to all departments of state government. In fact, Constable “recalled being told to clear meetings with elected officials” with Kelly’s office, and was told specifically not to meet with Fulop.
Mastro’s report is silent on how Stepien and Kelly managed to run such a far-reaching political operation out of the governor’s office just 40 feet from where O’Dowd and McKenna sat on either side of Christie’s personal office without higher-ups being fully aware of their activities, or indeed whether they regarded it as a problem.
Just when Christie regarded Bridgegate as a problem is also a matter of some confusion in the Mastro report and the interview memoranda.
The McKenna interview inexplicably says nothing about McKenna speaking to Baroni in early October when Christie asked him and O’Dowd to look into Foye’s allegations that laws had been broken in Bridgegate. Baroni said in an email to Wildstein that he received a phone call from McKenna that weekend, O’Dowd recalled that McKenna spoke to Baroni, and Christie thought he remembered McKenna telling him that he had spoken to Baroni and was satisfied that the lane closures were part of a legitimate traffic study.
What is clear, however, is that Christie, who had been asked about Bridgegate during a gubernatorial debate with Democrat Barbara Buono, let his senior staff know at a specially called December 13, 2013, meeting that Bridgegate represented a serious problem, especially now that he was the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.