Governor Chris Christie didn’t mention the New Jersey controversies threatening a possible 2016 presidential run as he began his second term by blasting political gamesmanship and called for bipartisan compromises.
“We cannot fall victim to the attitude of Washington,” the 51-year-old Republican said in remarks prepared for his inaugural address in Trenton. “The attitude that says I am always right and you are always wrong. The attitude that puts everyone into a box they are not permitted to leave. The attitude that puts political wins ahead of policy agreements. The belief that compromise is a dirty word.”
Challenges such as investigations of his office’s Hurricane Sandy spending and ties to politically motivated traffic jams come “out of nowhere, to test you,” Christie said last week. This weekend, another arose as a mayor accused his administration of threatening to withhold disaster aid unless she endorsed a redevelopment project. Today, with snow bearing down, the 51-year-old governor canceled an inaugural celebration at Ellis Island, a high-profile venue that had been taken as a sign that he might court a national electorate.
The governor and his family attended a prayer service today at Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church. The pastor, the Rev. Joe A. Carter, reminded the audience that hardships are ever present.
“All of us, at one time or another, have to deal with times of testing and seasons of frustration,” Carter said.
The governor, ordinarily a clear-voiced, high-energy speaker, has appeared tired since Jan. 9, the day he told reporters he was “a sad guy” during an almost two-hour news conference to address the jams on the George Washington Bridge.
“He knows he’s in trouble,” said Peter Woolley, a politics professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey. “He’s concerned that long-time friends and associates are clearly in trouble.”
Christie’s calls for smaller government and lower taxes made him a national figure during his first term. He turned down calls to run for president in 2011, but hasn’t ruled out a 2016 bid. He became chairman of the Republican Governors Association in November.
“I do not believe that New Jerseyans want a bigger, more expensive government that penalizes success and then gives the pittance left to a few in the name of income equity,” he said today after taking the oath of office. “What New Jerseyans want is an unfettered opportunity to succeed in the way they define success. They want an equal chance at the starting; not a government guaranteed result.”
Last month, Christie was neck and neck with Democrat Hillary Clinton, 48 percent to 46 percent, in a CNN/ORC International poll based on a hypothetical 2016 presidential race. The edge was within the margin of error.
Now he is at the center of an inquiry unprecedented in the New Jersey governor’s office. Democrats, who control both houses of the legislature, are examining whether Christie or members of his administration had knowledge of the lane closings and whether they tried to cover it up.
Legislative committees on Jan. 16 issued 20 subpoenas to individuals and organizations.
The administration’s ties to the traffic messes came to light in a cache of e-mails and text messages obtained on Jan. 8 by news outlets. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote on Aug. 13 to David Wildstein, a Christie ally at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the George Washington Bridge. “Got it,” Wildstein replied.
For four days starting Sept. 9, two of three access lanes from Fort Lee to the bridge were closed. Typical half-hour delays on the New Jersey side stretched to four hours or more.
Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who hadn’t joined colleagues to cross party lines and endorse Christie for re- election, asked the governor’s appointees at the Port Authority whether he was being punished. He got no answer.
On Jan. 9, a day after the e-mail trail was published, Christie apologized and said he was “outraged” and “saddened” by lies within his administration. The governor said he had nothing to do with the tie-ups.
His troubles grew Jan. 13, when the independent inspector general of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it was auditing Christie’s expenditure of $25 million in federal Sandy disaster aid on a “Stronger Than The Storm” ad campaign featuring Christie, his wife and their four children.
Then, this weekend, Hoboken’s mayor accused Christie’s administration of muscling her over the redevelopment project.
Christie’s office immediately rebutted the claims by Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat. But Zimmer said in a statement that she met Jan. 19 with federal investigators.
Her allegations will be included in lawmakers’ probe, said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Democrat co-leading the probe. The Assembly and Senate plan to conduct a joint investigation with help from Reid Schar, the lead prosecutor in the corruption trials of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.
Christie ran up record public approval in the wake of Sandy in October 2012. He beat his Democratic challenger, state Senator Barbara Buono, by 22 percentage points in November.
“It matters what the public believes,” said Woolley of Fairleigh Dickinson. “It’s the tide of public opinion that will stay with him or turn against him. Where that tide turns, or doesn’t, is not always on the facts of the case.”
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