Former Chris Christie aide Bridget Kelly, whose infamous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email blew the lid off of the “Bridgegate” political revenge scheme, is running for office.

Kelly, a Republican, began her campaign Monday for Bergen County clerk. She first announced her candidacy in Elle and on Good Day New York.

“I'm in this to win it,” Kelly said. “And I would hope that those people that spent the last seven years gleefully watching me be destroyed are the same ones that understand that I unanimously won at the United States Supreme Court, [and] would just realize my life deserves to go on, too.”

In 2016 a jury found Kelly guilty of conspiring to close the lanes to the George Washington Bridge in order to cause days of traffic in the town of Fort Lee, where the bridge sits, because the Democratic mayor did not endorse Christie, a Republican, for reelection. But in 2019, days before Kelly was due to report to prison to serve a 13-month sentence, the Supreme Court intervened and decided to hear her appeal. The Court finally ruled last year that Kelly and her alleged co-conspirator, Bill Baroni, did not commit federal crimes. 

“Not every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the unanimous decision. 

Despite the Court’s reversal of her conviction, Kelly said she’s had trouble finding work in the field that she loves—local government in New Jersey. She spent 16 years working for a state legislator and four years working for Christie, most recently as deputy chief of staff, before the governor fired her after her infamous email was released to the public.

Christie has long denied having any knowledge of the scheme, though his claim was cast into doubt by sworn testimony during the Bridgegate trial. 

Kelly alleges the governor knew that the lane closures were meant as payback, and that she was scapegoated—starting with a multimillion-dollar taxpayer-funded report that claimed she got involved in the scheme because she was emotional after breaking up with her boyfriend, former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien. 

Listen, I had no power in that office. I couldn't even pick the meals at MetLife Stadium or at the Prudential Center when the governor was having guests there,” Kelly said. “So if I couldn't pick out which chicken to get, I'm pretty sure I couldn't shut down the George Washington Bridge or realign the lanes.”

Kelly claims her email was sent to David Wildstein, Christie’s political point person at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, to give him the go-ahead to shut down lanes for a simple governmental study analyzing the realigning of local-access lanes in Fort Lee at the George Washington Bridge. Wildstein later admitted that the traffic study was a cover story to cause epic traffic jams over several days to get back at Fort Lee’s mayor on Christie’s behalf. The traffic jams left school buses, ambulances and commuters stuck in gridlock for hours.

Kelly said the “time for some traffic problems” email was a quick, off-hand message that was sent without malice,  and simply to acknowledge the study would cause traffic. She knows her time in the national political spotlight will shadow her campaign for clerk. 

“It was for one recipient and that same recipient is the same one that pled guilty to nine federal crimes, so I'll leave it at that,” she said, referring to Wildstein. “And it was open to interpretation by the US Attorney's Office who didn't want to hear the context of the emails. So was it written in haste? Yes.”

Kelly said most of the men involved in Bridgegate have landed on their feet, and she deserves the same. Wildstein now runs a popular New Jersey political news site, and he interviews top politicians, including Governor Phil Murphy, for his radio show.  Stepien, who was never charged in the scheme, went on to run former President Trump’s reelection campaign. Christie himself is plotting a 2024 campaign for president.

Governor Christie and Bridget Anne Kelly last year

Governor Christie and Bridget Anne Kelly last year

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Governor Christie and Bridget Anne Kelly last year
NJ Governor's Office

“This is not about a Bridget-I-need-to-feel-good-about-myself tour,” she said. “It's not like I've never been in public service before. So it is a natural progression to do something in government.”

But “time for some traffic problems” isn’t the only questionable correspondence that could come up in a campaign. She also wrote, “Is it wrong that I’m smiling?” while the traffic jams were occurring. (She said this referred to the fact that Wildstein was correct that the traffic study would indeed cause gridlock.) And when school buses were stopped, she wrote: “I feel badly about the kids...I guess.” (She said she really did feel badly about the children, and the quote is out of context.)

The Republican primary is in June. There are no known challengers. In November, Kelly would face Bergen County’s incumbent Democratic clerk John Hogan, who told The Record: “She’s already had an opportunity at public service, and I don’t think she should be rebuilding her life on the public dime. You can’t take that email away. Maybe the Supreme Court decided that she didn’t break any laws, but it was certainly unethical.”

The county clerk is responsible for maintaining public records and processing a variety of governmental paperwork. The clerk is also involved in the elections process.

Kelly said she will announce a specific platform in the coming weeks; for now, she only said that she believes she can improve efficiency in the clerk’s office. Kelly had her right to vote restored after the Supreme Court reversed her conviction, but she would not say whether she voted for Trump for reelection. 

I was betrayed, and I was the sacrificial lamb and people allowed me to be hung out to dry. And by allowing me to be hung out to dry, they did it to my children, and if those people can put their head on the pillow at night, I don't think they have souls or conscience,” Kelly said. “So in this effort, I'm going on with my life, and I'm looking to go to the voters to say, ‘Here, this is who I am. Ask away.’”

Matt Katz reports on air at WNYC about immigration, refugees, hate, and national security. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattkatz00.