Ken Kurson, the former editor of Jared Kushner’s Observer who helped draft Donald Trump’s 2016 AIPAC speech, has joined forces with David Wildstein, the mastermind of the Bridgegate scandal, to relaunch a news site Wildstein created six months into his court-ordered probation.
Wildstein and Kurson confirmed the arrangement in a series of sometimes confusing emails, phone calls and text messages with POLITICO. The collaboration represents the culmination of a years-long relationship between two men, whose political and professional orbits overlap like a Venn diagram.
“I'm solely responsible for editorial and we are moving forward together,” Wildstein texted. “We've been close friends for 15 years and I'm honored to be part of his team.”
In 2007, when then-Observer Media Group owner Kushner was 26, he bought PolitickerNJ from Wildstein, who published the influential website under the pseudonym Wally Edge and employed a team of reporters that at one point included Steve Kornacki, now a host and political correspondent for MSNBC. Wildstein continued to write for the site for several more years after its purchase.
By the time Kushner hired Kurson, a longtime aide to Rudy Giuliani, to edit the Observer in 2013, Wildstein was long gone, serving as a top ally to then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. That year, Wildstein engineered the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge as an act of political retribution against a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse the Republican governor.
Bridgegate would ultimately undermine Christie’s presidential bid, even as he denied knowing anything about it. As the scandal unfolded, Kushner, the devoted son of a man Christie sent to prison when he was U.S. attorney in New Jersey, emailed Wildstein.
“Just wanted you to know that I am thinking of you and wishing the best,” Kushner reportedly wrote, the Washington Post has reported. “For what it’s worth, I thought the move you pulled was kind of badass.”
Wildstein cooperated with federal prosecutors and ultimately became their star witness, blaming Christie for the lane closures, flipping on his two accomplices and eventually getting off with probation. Before Wildstein was sentenced in July, Kurson sent the trial judge a letter of support.
“David Wildstein is one of the most principled men I know,” Kurson wrote two days before the news broke that he was leaving the Observer for Teneo Strategy, a consulting firm founded by former Clinton aides.
Wildstein now lives in Florida, where he previously said he’d gone to “retire.” He’s looking to hire a New Jersey-based reporter to contribute to his new site. This week, visitors to Wildstein’s PoliticsDW were forwarded to the New Jersey Globe. In a Wednesday editor’s note, Wildstein said he was joining a company called Sea of Reeds Media, which would provide him with “a professional business and sales staff.”
The company has no apparent web presence yet. But Kurson described himself as its majority investor. The company, he said, owns two sites, ModernConsensus.com, which will cover cryptocurrency, and NewJerseyGlobe.com.
Kevin Sanders, who until recently was general manager of the Observer, is working for Kurson’s new company and will be selling advertising for New Jersey Globe, Wildstein said.
When first approached about their partnership, Wildstein said Sea of Reeds was going to sell advertising and handle other business matters for his website, not that he was now in business with the firm.
After POLITICO relayed Kurson’s comments to Wildstein, he said, “Well, I didn’t get any money.”
He said he would call Kurson to see if he could clarify things.
Wildstein texted back a short time later.
“I started PoliticsDW around the time Kurson began investing in some other sites. He said 'let's do this together' so I folded my site into the New Jersey Globe,” he wrote. “I'm solely responsible for editorial and we are moving forward together. We've been close friends for 15 years and I'm honored to be part of his team.”
From a New Jersey perspective, that team is formidable one, with a deep knowledge of New Jersey arcana and demonstrated knife fighting ability. Wildstein, who attended Livingston High School with Christie, spent much of his career in politics — both as the mayor of that town and as a tough-guy political operative who once stole the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s suit jacket before a debate.
On Thursday, Wildstein’s website featured stories about about a scuffle over taxes in the Bayonne mayoral race, and Gov. Phil Murphy’s curious relationship with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ son. He often writes upwards of a dozen posts a day.
Loretta Weinberg, the Democrat and New Jersey Senate majority leader who led an investigation into Bridgegate, admitted to reading Wildstein’s site “a little bit.”
“Only in New Jersey,” said Weinberg. “I don’t know. Behavior becomes so acceptable that you don’t get surprised by anything.”
Another New Jersey Democrat attributed the news site’s arrival to “the death of local reporting.”
But he wouldn’t speak on the record, out of fear.
“Those guys are f---ing dangerous,” he said. “I don’t want to get anywhere near that.”