RAMSEY, N.J. — Bridget Kelly wants to talk about “Bridgegate.”
Not by choice, but because she understands that the traffic scandal that roiled New Jersey politics is something she carries like a bad tattoo.
The former aide to Republican ex-Gov. Chris Christie has been talking about the scandal a lot more these days as she seeks an ambitious political resurrection.
If she’s successful, it would mark a stunning turnaround in a saga that saw her go from being a relatively anonymous government functionary to a criminal defendant and national butt of jokes.
“I have nothing to hide from ‘Bridgegate’ at all. I am happy to discuss it at length,” Kelly said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I also think people are tired of it. And I do think that people, if I talk to them, they kind of start to like me and they know I’m as genuine as you’re going to be.”
The people of Bergen County initially got to know Kelly as part of a small group of Republican political operatives who in 2013 had workers purposely block access lanes to the George Washington Bridge to create four days of monster traffic jams in the suburb of Fort Lee.
The backups trapped buses carrying schoolchildren, blocked ambulances and infuriated the masses of commuters trying to get over the bridge into Manhattan. The cover story was that the lane closures were part of a traffic study. But the true purpose, documents and testimony later revealed, was to get revenge against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for refusing to endorse Christie for reelection.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote in an email that seemed like a smoking gun of culpability when it later became public.
Kelly’s campaign to become the county clerk, an official responsible for handling the mundane but important transactions of daily life — liens, mortgages, passports, photo cards for veterans, naturalization records — could test the adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
“She must have near-universal name recognition, which is an asset that cannot be overvalued in a low-profile race like this one,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of the nonpartisan Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “The key question is whether the countywide electorate, which skews heavily Democratic, is willing to do what she’s asking them to do: look past the single thing they know about her.”
That Bergen County, where Kelly has lived most of her life, also is home to Fort Lee wasn’t lost on incumbent John Hogan.
Hogan held his campaign kickoff announcement in March a stone’s throw from the bridge, where he called the scandal “deplorable” and “embarrassing.” Kelly responded by releasing a statement calling Hogan’s event “juvenile drama.”
For Kelly, a return to New Jersey politics seemed a pipe dream in 2019, when she was weeks from reporting to federal prison before the Supreme Court opted to hear her appeal of her 2016 fraud and conspiracy conviction.
When the court held last year that prosecutors had misapplied the law and ruled unanimously to overturn the convictions of Kelly and former bridge authority executive Bill Baroni, the single mother of four set out to restart a career that had been in limbo for more than five y