The Bully – Governor Chris Christie?

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has found that unlikely place where his ambition has collided with his style (or lack of same) and substance.

He’s presented himself on the national stage as a get-things-done, bi-partisan kind of guy. Recent events regarding lane closures at the George Washington Bridge threaten to tarnish that image in front of the nation.

Chris Christie

This nonsense should have been easily avoidable for a guy who constantly touts his political skills. The long and short of it is as follows.

Last September, when Christie was preparing to bury the Democratic challenger to his re-election, he solicited (maybe sought, maybe coerced) support from Democratic elected officials.

Among them was the mayor of Fort Lee (NJ), the town from which the George washington Bridge crosses into New York City.

That mayor, Mark Sokolich, declined Christie’s entreaties.

Mark Sokolich.Fort Lee.mayor
Mark Sokolich, Mayor Fort Lee New Jersey

Then, on the first day of school, a number of traffic lanes leading to the bridge from Ft. Lee were mysteriously closed.

The bridge to New York City
George Washington Bridge


This set off hours of monstrous delays that lasted several days. Mayor Sokolich was apparently stonewalled when he tried to get answers as to the reason for the closures, and when things would get back to normal. The governor’s “people” on the Port Authority, which oversees the bridge, trotted out the rationale that the closures were part of a traffic study.

Christie, meanwhile, treated questions about the bridge lane closures as an unwarranted intrusion on his time. At one point he jokingly told reporters that he himself moved the cones to close the lanes. Little by little, however, things got serious. First, there was the revelation that there was no traffic study. Then, Christie’s brusque denials aside, the public began to see how far up the food chain the conspiracy to close the lanes went.

That culminated in the release of e-mails showing that top members of Christie’s staff did in fact devise the lane closures as political retaliation for an endorsement not made. This was done in collusion with a couple of Christie appointees to the Port Authority, a couple of whom are no longer there.

On Wednesday, Christie the Bully issued a typically political, “this is unacceptable” statement. On Thursday he’ll meet the media in a classic exercise in damage control from this self inflicted wound.

All of which totally misses the point.

The real question is how a bi-state government agency abuses its patrons on such a grand scale? The Port Authority has long been seen as a refuge for political hacks. These latest revelations reveal it to be a nest of vipers as well.

Sadly, when all the legislative hearings are done and the damage to Christie 2016 assessed by multiple media, the issue of getting rid of agencies that abuse their power will not be seriously addressed.

Too bad.

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The Wave of the Future (From the upcoming book, “The Slow Death of American Radio”)

Radio played a more or less consistent role in my life through my teen years.

The British invasion, R&B, and pop groups all found their way into my consciousness by listening to the Cousin Brucie’s, Murray the K, Dickie Robinson… and the like.

British Invasion album


The rare exception, and harbinger of the future was Jimi Hendrix, who I first heard about from a high school classmate in the fall of ’66. Never during this time did I think I’d ever end up working in the medium.

High school came and went. So did college. I worked in the New York Post Office, in a couple of mailrooms after that, and by the time I reached my 21st birthday my highest ambition was to become a New York subway motorman – which I would still would love to do! (Who wouldn’t want to drive the A-Train from 125th Street to Columbus Circle).

NY subway

During this time my older brother Clayton Riley was my guiding light. It was Clayton, 16 years my senior, who became the arbiter of taste and sophistication in my young life. He’d already achieved success in his career, moving from actor to writer to critic for, among others, the New York Times. It was Clayton who made me sit down one day and seriously listen to jazz. That changed my outlook on the genre, and music in general.

One day, in the late spring /early summer of 1973, I popped up to Clayton’s home on 112th Street in Manhattan. This had become my habit during those days. On this day, however, Clayton was preoccupied. I knew he had just done a major article for Ebony Magazine on Manhattan Boro President Percy Sutton. He proceeded to tell me about this great man, his political acumen, and the news that he’d started a media company that had just bought WLIB, one of New York City’s two black oriented radio stations.

Obit Sutton

Clayton began pacing the floor in front of me, becoming more passionate with each sentence. “Mark, Percy Sutton told me communications is the wave of the future for black people”.

It took a minute for those words to sink in. “The wave of the future for black people”.

I didn’t realize it then, but with those words …my brother was about to change my life even more profoundly than he did when he made me listen to jazz music.

A few days later, Clayton called me to his house. He told me, “Look man, I just got off the phone with the news director at WLIB, Percy Sutton’s station. He’s going to meet with you. He’s young, just like you. I want you to remember one thing. No matter what happens, if he asks you about doing anything at that radio station, you tell him yes. Don’t rule anything out”.

I knew why Clayton said this to me. I was a music fanatic. I knew nothing about news, except Walter Cronkite, whose television newscasts came from On High. Yet I said to Clayton, “Of course, man. I’m not ruling anything out. I’m not crazy” (looking back, I’m not sure Clayton didn’t think so).

And so it was that on July 4th, 1973, I took the train up to 310 Lenox Ave., and met for four hours with WLIB News Director David Lampel. For the bulk of that time, we talked music. I was startled to learn that disc jockeys couldn’t play whatever they wanted, that they had to work from playlists. It was the first of a plethora of revelations about the medium I’d misread from the outside.

Toward the end of our conversation, David Lampel said to me, “Look,  this has been great, but there’s nothing I can do for you as far as music’s concerned. Have you ever thought about news”? Clayton’s words came back loud in my ear. “Don’t rule anything out”. So I didn’t. I said to David, “I don’t know much about news, but I’d love to learn”.


With that, my 40 year career in radio began. And two sentences from Clayton Riley opened a door to an unbelievable radio life.

Communications is the wave of the future.

Don’t rule anything out.
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