NJ Pols Split On Christie


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaking at a town hall meeting earlier this year in Kenilworth, N.J.

By John Celock

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) entrance into the presidential race Tuesday has left New Jersey politicos split along party lines on whether he should be making the race.

Republicans were cheering on support for their party’s Garden State leader, while Democrats were sounding words of warning about Christie’s record as governor. The second term New Jersey governor kicked off his long awaited presidential bid during a speech at Livingston High School before heading off on a five-day tour of New Hampshire.

“America needs to be warned,” Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Roselle) told The Celock Report. “Once folks understand what the reality is here. I am going to make it known the areas I can that we are still suffering in New Jersey. We have some of the highest unemployment rates here. We have issues that need to be resolved and we need our governor in town. We can’t have the governor running for president, which is a full time job.”

Holley said that he wants people outside of the state to know that Christie’s record in New Jersey has not been one of success. Christie has made his gubernatorial record a centerpiece to his presidential run, using his announcement speech Tuesday to tout such issues as teacher tenure reform, changes to the pension and benefits system for public employees, a property tax cap and tax reductions at the state level.

Holley, who has endorsed Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton, on the other hand said that Democrats want Americans to know a story that has not had Christie funding the state’s pension obligations and being critical of public employees. Christie’s relationship with public employees unions has been tumultuous since taking office, with union members picketing his announcement Tuesday.

“He treats teachers, police officers, firefighters and first line responders as second class occupations that shouldn’t be,” Holley said. “As a leader, he should feel compelled to protect them and provide them the benefits they so richly deserve.”

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield), one of Christie’s biggest legislative supporters, told The Celock Report that Christie’s record will be a major selling point of his presidential bid. He noted that as he holds town hall meetings in New Hampshire, voters will see a presidential candidate with accomplishments. Christie has made New Hampshire the cornerstone of his presidential hopes.

Bramnick echoed Christie’s theme that he can work with Democrats, noting that Christie’s accomplishments were passed by a Democratic-controlled Legislature. He said that Christie’s recent struggles with Democratic legislative leaders have stemmed largely from the fallout from the Bridgegate scandal but that the governor has continued to have a personal relationship with Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford). Bramnick also noted that 2017 gubernatorial race is ramping up where Sweeney is a likely Democratic candidate playing a role.

Bramnick told The Celock Report that he believes Christie’s declining poll numbers will bounce back on the campaign trail. Christie has been seeing a decline in his poll numbers both in New Jersey and nationally.

“The Democrats have piled on good and the media has piled on good,” Bramnick said about the impact of Bridegate. “It is tough when you have a year long investigation into a bridge and a Democratic Legislature that stopped cooperating after Bridgegate.”

Earlier this month, Christie recorded a record low 30 percent approval rating in New Jersey.

Republican strategist Jeanette Hoffman told The Celock Report that she believes that his declining poll numbers in New Jersey have been a function of his national ambitions, pointing to similar declines seen by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) as they have ramped up their presidential campaigns.

Hoffman said that Christie would be able to bounce back on his personality and campaign theme of “telling it like it is.”

“That is his strength, his personality and charisma and the ability not to be a traditional politician,” she said. “In a place like New Hampshire, which is pretty open, that will play well.”

Hoffman said that while Christie is viewed as a moderate Republican, he has conservative credentials. She cited Christie being pro life, tax cuts and his decision Monday night to loosen gun restrictions in New Jersey.

“He is from a blue state so he is viewed as a moderate but more and more you will see him showing off conservative positions,” she said.

Essex County Freeholder Len Luciano (D), who represents Livingston and is a graduate of Livingston High School like the governor, said that he can see Christie being a viable candidate in swing states in a presidential election based on his ability to win statewide twice in New Jersey. Luciano noted that in his evenly split district in western Essex County, both him and Christie have won the area twice.

Luciano joked that while he wants to see a Democrat win the White House next year, the residents of his district would not mind a presidential library in Livingston.

Luciano said that he would not view Christie as a conservative.

“He will make for a strong candidate in the general election because of his liberal, left leaning track record,” he said.

A public school teacher and teacher’s union leader, Luciano did have harsh words for Christie’s record on education policy. He noted that the teacher’s unions “have just about had enough of his bullying.”

“Governor Christie has really demonized public education in the state of New Jersey,” Luciano said. “I have to say I have been pretty disgusted and fed up with his gotcha policies and his behavior, actions and words towards those of us who serve the children of our communities. He has taken a lot of cheap shots. While I agree that there needed to be some teacher tenure reform and pension reform, he did not act in a professional manner when it came to teachers.”

Luciano said that the Christie seen on stage Tuesday is the Christie known to Livingston residents. He noted that a cousin of his played high school baseball with Christie and said that the governor has not changed. At the same time he said that Christie should display more tact with his public statements and “be a role model.”

While Christie currently lives in Mendham and has lived in Summit, Cranford and Westfield since his marriage, Luciano praised Christie for having the announcement in Livingston.

“I found it fitting that he went home to make this announcement,” he said. “I thought it was very tasteful that he used educators to introduce him and it was my knowledge that he invited many of his former classmates to join him, which I found to be a very nice gesture and very classy.”

Bramnick said he believes Christie’s announcement will be a plus for New Jersey.

“It is good for New Jersey for a lot of reasons,” he said. “We haven’t had anyone represent New Jersey nationally in a while. He will be a spokesman for New Jersey. It is exciting if you are a part of the Republican organization and your governor is running for president. That’s always cool.”

Christie is the first New Jersey presidential candidate since Democratic former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley and Republican businessman Steve Forbes in 2000. Only one New Jersey governor, Woodrow Wilson in 1912, has won the White House.

Holley, though, did not mince words when he said that Christie should not be running for president when there is work to be done in Trenton. He said that voters outside of the state should pay attention to Christie’s work in New Jersey and see that he has “unkept promises.”

“He’s arrogant to run for president and leave us holding the bag,” Holley said.

Hoffman said that she sees Tuesday’s announcement as kicking off the country being introduced to the Christie that has won two terms as New Jersey’s governor.

“The speech is a vintage Chris Christie speech,” she said. “It is what made him a popular campaigner when he first ran against Jon Corzine. A populist tone of being a reformer and a straight talker and being someone who would cut through the bureaucracy first in New Jersey and now Washington.”