WASHINGTON -- The decision by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) staff members to shut down two access lanes to the country's busiest bridge in order to gum up traffic in Fort Lee fits into a long tradition of childish gestures made against political rivals. But a traffic jam has real consequences for real people -- children are delayed from school, and emergency responders are slowed down. With a bit of creativity, a politician can be every bit as immature as the Christie administration, and exact just as much revenge, without putting actual lives at risk. Here are three of our favorite examples of rather harmless political pettiness.
If you have a juicy story of petty political payback that happened in your town, let us know in the comments or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include links to coverage of said childishness.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- TURNING OFF THE WATER IN A POLITICIAN'S BELOVED FOUNTAIN: The late William Donald Schaefer enjoyed little more in life than eating his lunch beside a 12-foot bronze fountain outside the governor's mansion. The fountain was installed in 1999, at the behest of then-Gov. Schaefer's longtime companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, and Schaefer continued to enjoy it after she died as a way to honor her memory. "He loved that fountain," recalled Steny Hoyer, the House Democratic Whip, who represents Southern Maryland.
"Miss Snoops had had that built. It was very Maryland -- had crabs coming out of it and fish and everything. It's actually a rather nice water fountain," recalled Michael Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor. "It was rather amusing to hear Schaefer [talk about the fountain], as if he was talking about a person. For him it was the embodiment of his female companion."
After his gubernatorial stint, Schaefer was elected comptroller, a powerful position in Maryland with the ability to block major parts of the governor's agenda -- which the cantankerous Schaefer proceeded to do with abandon. The victim was his longtime rival and fellow Democrat Parris Glendening.
So in 2001, Gov. Parris Glendening (D) ordered the water turned off. "When asked by reporters why he did it, Glendenning said, 'The water shortage,'" recalled Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), who succeeded Glendening. "But it was a closed system!"
Getting the fountain back on became an obsession of Schaefer's. On Oct. 10, 2001, the Washington Post reported that Schaefer began bringing up the issue at meetings of the Board of Public Works. "He tried to hurt me through Hilda Mae. That's what happened there," he said.
"He felt she had been disrespected," Steele said of Schaefer.
To retaliate, Schaefer began airing the rumor that Glendening was having an affair with his deputy chief of staff. (Schaefer may have been on to something: Glendening later married her.)
In 2003, Schaefer recalled the episode to a group of grad students from the University of Maryland, which included a future HuffPost reporter, who were part of the William Donald Schaefer Internship Progam. Schaefer told the students that he had bought a gallon of water to give to Glendening, arguing that the state-of-the-art fountain used only that much over the course of a year.
Ehrlich made the issue his top priority. "Balancing the budget was important," Ehrlich, now an author, told HuffPost, "but turning on that fountain was the most important thing in my life at that time."
He said he had wanted it to be his first act as governor, but winter was in the way. "It was in spring when we actually did it," he said, recalling that he invited the entire legislature to the ceremony. "We did it live on TV."
Steele, who served with Ehrlich, said Glendening's retribution backfired on Democrats. "It solidified Schaefer's support of our general efforts for the remainder of our term," he said.
Schaefer never forgave Glendening, saying at the event, "I will not have any disparaging remarks about him except I hate him. That's putting it mildly."
But he carried the memory of the fountain with him. "My mom was an amateur artist and did a picture of the fountain and gave it to William Donald, which he took with him when he moved to the retirement community," said Ehrlich, adding that his mother, despite her amateur status, was adept with a brush. "It was pretty good."
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- POURING CHEMICALS IN A LAKE SO KIDS CAN'T GO ICE SKATING: In the late 1980s, ice skating on the popular Delaware Park Lake was ruined for children in the City of Good Neighbors. Parks Department employees alleged that city Parks Commissioner Robert Delano -- a close ally of the then-mayor Jimmy Griffin (D) -- ordered them to pour calcium chloride onto the lake. The chemical is an anti-icing pollutant, meaning the city's largest natural ice rink was ruined during the winter of 1987-88.
"It would not melt all the ice, but it would melt an area of about 10 or 15 feet of ice," one Parks Department employee told the Buffalo News in a Jan. 13, 1990, article. "Then our guys could put up a danger sign -- you know, ‘No Skating Allowed.’ And nobody could skate there for the next few days."
The sabotage was reportedly payback for the Common Council shutting down a nearby refreshment stand in the park operated by Delano's cronies. In 1992, a federal jury found Delano not guilty of polluting the lake, although it convicted him on racketeering and four other felony charges.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- NO VANITY PLATES FOR POLITICAL OPPONENTS: The lower your license plate number, the bigger a player you are in Washington, D.C.'s local politics. That makes single- and double-digit plates highly prized commodities. So in 2001, when then-Mayor Anthony Williams' (D) office wanted to get back at a local preacher for criticizing the mayor, it decided to take away his special plate and make him just like all the other commoners in Washington, D.C.
Williams and the Rev. Willie Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church were once political allies, and Wilson reportedly obtained his low-number vanity plate in 1999, after he promised to support the mayor. But in 2001, Wilson criticized the mayor during a sermon. Williams' chief of staff reportedly repoed Wilson's "16" license plate.
He wasn't without a low number for long though. Shortly thereafter, a couple of council members gave him the number 42.