Christie Not Leaving, Just Renovating

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By John Celock

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s mysterious press announcement Tuesday turned out to be about the need to renovate the New Jersey Statehouse.

Christie, who has previously been mentioned for a job with President-elect Donald Trump, set off a flurry of social media speculation after scheduling the announcement on Monday afternoon. The announcement came with no indication of the topic, but followed previous statements from Christie that he was not leaving office early and Trump demoting him from chairman to vice chairman of his transition team. Christie acknowledged his tease at the end of the announcement.

“From all the reactions I got in announcing a press announcement, some people thought I’d say something else,” he said.

Christie said that if he were to be moving to Washington with Trump, he would likely have done the announcement in another manner.

“If I was leaving to join Trump Administration do you think I’d be doing it in the rotunda of the Statehouse without him? Christie said. “I think he’d want to be there to bestow it on me.”

Trump has not held any formal announcements of his cabinet appointments, a break with prior presidents. The announcements have come via statements from Trump and the nominee.

Christie’s announcement focused instead on the need to renovate the New Jersey Statehouse’s executive wing, with the governor describing the work space as unsafe and a fire hazard. He said that he would be launching a four-year $300 million renovation of the executive wing starting in July, a move that will move him and others out of the building at that point.

“The building is subject to catastrophic failure,” he said.

Christie painted a picture of a virtual death trap in the Statehouse including a lack of sprinklers and other fire suppression equipment in the executive wing of the building, windows falling out, chimneys in danger of collapsing, lack of ways to evacuate in the event of a fire and non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He also said that the offices of his chief counsel are sinking and could collapse within two years. The counsel’s office is located above the state’s computer servers.

Christie also noted that 35 percent of the Statehouse is without HVAC equipment.

Christie said that while renovating the Statehouse has been on his mind since he took office in 2010, he made the final decision this spring while touring the Maryland Statehouse in Annapolis with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R). He noted that Maryland has renovated their Statehouse, which is the oldest continuously occupied capitol in the country. New Jersey’s Statehouse was built in 1792 and is the second oldest continuously occupied capitol.

As part of the project, Christie said new exhibits will be placed in the Statehouse for school groups and tourists to view and that security will be upgraded. While noting that he wants new doors on the front of the building, he said the project would move security screening for visitors from inside the front door to outside. He said this would be done to prevent potential suicide bombers from entering the building to be screened.

The project will result in the state’s executive offices, along with the press and others to be relocated to other buildings in Trenton, while the state Legislature will remain in the Statehouse.

“We will absolutely evacuate the building by July,” he said.

Christie said that the building has had 17 full scale renovation projects since 1792 and the last major renovation was in 1958. In the 1990s, former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) and her late husband, John, launched a fundraising program to have the Statehouse golden dome regilded.

Christie’s renovations come as other states around the country have worked to renovate their capitol buildings. Wyoming is in the middle of a multi-year effort to renovate their capitol, a project that has caused Gov. Matt Mead (R) to move to temporary quarters, while Minnesota and Oklahoma are in the middle of similar projects. North Dakota has recently completed projects at their capitol and is launching an effort to build a new governor’s mansion. Kansas also recently completed a full capitol renovation, which included temporarily relocating meeting rooms and legislative offices to adjacent buildings.

The move means Christie will be out of the Statehouse for the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2018. It will also mean that his successor will serve most of their term in an office outside the Statehouse.

“We’ll have a building that people will be proud to visit and be proud to have as a symbol of our state,” he said.


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