Gov. Chris Christie announced the resignation Friday of one of his top appointees amid an escalating probe into ramp closings on the George Washington Bridge and said he was certain the shutdowns were not politically motivated.
The resignation of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive deputy director Bill Baroni comes a day after the Democratic National Committee tried to link Christie, a Republican, to the controversy and a state lawmaker issued seven subpoenas to Baroni and other agency officials.
Christie said Baroni's resignation had been planned because Baroni had served four years with the bistate agency that operates bridges, tunnels, airports and ports.
But Democrats have been holding hearings into the Sept. 9 closing that took place in Fort Lee, claiming the lanes were closed for no reason but to punish the towns' Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie's re-election campaign. His campaign focused heavily on bipartisan support and endorsements from Democratic officials.
The closures caused massive traffic backups in Fort Lee on the first day of school. Baroni previously told lawmakers the ramps were closed for a traffic study.
Democrats, who control the state Legislature, have held hearings, and national Democrats have used the issue to bash Christie, who is considered a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2016.
The one time Christie previously spoke in public about the issue, he laughed it off.
During a news conference this month, he joked that he personally put up traffic cones to close the lanes. Then he addressed his critics, including two Democratic lawmakers who have been pressing the issue. "Just because John Wisniewski and Loretta Weinberg are obsessed with this, it just shows you they really have nothing to do."
Deborah Gramiccioni will replace Baroni at the bistate agency, Christie announced. She worked with Christie at the U.S. attorney's office.