by Bob Hennelly
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s presidential ambitions, already reeling from revelations about the bizarre Bridgegate scandal, now face a more mundane but possibly even more damaging challenge. The state’s economy, whose recent “comeback” the Governor has unabashedly taken credit for, seems to be stalling.
This past weekend Christie continued to make the national scene at the National Governors Association confab in Washington and at closed-door fundraisers for the Republican Governors Association, which he chairs. The pomp of those circumstances made it easier for the Governor to dodge reporters’ many questions.
But this week’s very different agenda, in New Jersey’s state capital of Trenton, will likely prompt increased scrutiny of Christie’s image as a truth-telling, corruption-busting prosecutor and tough-talking but supremely able state executive.
In politics a year can be an eternity. This time last year, as he was preparing his annual budget address to the New Jersey legislature, Christie’s approval numbers were sky high and his blunt brand was in national ascendancy. Back in the winter of 2013 Christie put forward his bipartisan legislative achievements on public employee pension and teacher tenure reforms as proof that Trenton had something to teach a dysfunctional national government.
Today, we have a Governor increasingly on the defensive about what he knew and when he knew it about the purported plot by Christie loyalists to close crowded entrances to the George Washington Bridge on September 9, 2013. The alleged purpose of these closures: to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee with a four-day traffic stoppage for not endorsing Christie’s re-election.
At first, Christie vehemently denied his administration had anything to do with the closures; last month, in a dramatic reversal, he fired a top staffer and a campaign operative who had been directly tied to the Bridgegate scandal by their email traffic. Now the staffers have hired criminal defense lawyers and are invoking the Fifth Amendment to stave off producing emails subpoenaed by the state legislature. Paul Fishman, the US Attorney for the state, is also conducting a probe.
“The two things that have made him stratospherically popular were his perceived sincerity and competency,” says Peter Woolley, who founded Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Public Mind Poll. “Bridgegate calls both into question; either he is a liar, or an incompetent who was unaware some knuckleheads were closing traffic lanes” [in order to advance Christie’s political interests].
On Tuesday Governor Christie will have to get back to basics and present a budget address outlining his plans for the upcoming fiscal year. Christie has been in office nearly four-and-a-half years, and like President Obama, can no longer deflect criticism by referring back to the “failed economic policies” of his predecessor.
Throughout his re-election campaign Christie touted the creation of 130,000 new private sector jobs during his first term—New Jersey’s best job creation record in a dozen years, his ads claimed. But Christie’s formal budget speech this week comes on the heels of a downbeat report out last month from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics: in December New Jersey lost 36,300 jobs, a disheartening change from the 16,900 jobs added in November.
And there are other indications that Christie’s “Jersey comeback,” hyped in his multi-million campaign, is hitting neutral and perhaps headed into reverse.
(Read the full story at WhoWhatWhy.com).