Large and In Charge
Why You Shouldn’t Underestimate Chris Christie
By Ryan Baker
Let me tell you some little known facts about the boisterous governor of the Garden State: he has attended far too many Bruce Springsteen shows, he is a vicious berserker war god who unleashes his wrath upon hapless teachers in order to drive them to tears (which he can then drink because teachers’ union tears are surprisingly high in calorie count), he hates the gays with a fundamentalist fury and he is now legendary because of this one time last September when he fell asleep on some bridge in Fort Lee and like totally clogged up traffic for a few days as the city rushed to clear the bridge of the ensuing girth.
Why then, has he had one of the consistently highest approvals rating of any New Jersey governor?
Perhaps it is because Christie’s own candor and aggressive rhetoric appeal to New Jerseyans, who are of course all retired mobsters and spray tanned MTV characters. Or maybe he’s achieved his office through back-room political maneuvering, and his public im- age is one that he truly deserves. Like many NJ cultural exports, however, it could also be that sensationalism has led to a media personality that belies the impressive history the governor can boast. It is this history that is reflected in the approval ratings, but not on the news screen.
Christie’s political career was a homegrown New Jersey affair; he was born in Newark, and his first job out of school was at a Cranford legal firm, Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci. After serving as a Morris County Freeholder for several years, he opened an office in Tren- ton with his law firm with a focus on lobbying. After a few more years of suc- cessful lobbying, he was appointed as United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey. The U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment unanimously in 2001.
This is where Christie began to build his reputation as an unapologetic, passionate, and straightfor- ward public figure—in a state that has been riddled with corruption for as long as….well, ever. Seriously, New Jersey’s Lord Cornbury, the first colonial gover- nor, was a known cross-dresser who enjoyed a bribe and some nepotism to go along with his lace pantaloons. Anyway, Chris Christie arrived on the scene and proceeded to unleash aforementioned vicious wrath upon the scourge of the state government. In his tenure in the office, Christie amassed 130 convictions or guilty pleas from state officials on charges of corruption. His love knew no partisan bounds either; Democratic Hudson County Executive Robert C. Janiszewski and Republican Essex County Executive James W. Treffinger were charged and removed within a year of one another. Besides corrupt officials, Christie also made record convictions on a network of brothel owners that were keeping and trafficking Mexican teens as prostitutes, shut down the East Orange chapter of the Bloods (convicting 42 gang members at once), and even prosecuted and convicted one British trader by the name of Hemant Lakhani for attempting to sell missiles.
New Jersey is a messed up state, but Chris Christie managed to wade through the muck and leave it looking a little cleaner— even before becoming governor.
In his role as governor, Christie’s public image exploded due to the legitimately high profile issues which marked it, as well as the legitimately high profiled reaction Christie gave to them. Videos of Christie yelling at people went viral and the state had been hit hard by the recession, but throughout his eternal battle with the NJEA, Christie managed to deliver three years of balanced budgets.
He proved himself further after Hurricane Sandy. Though most of the state only remembers the quarter-zip sweater he wore for two weeks straight throughout the ordeal, Christie’s work was far more meaningful. He ensured that the state received federal aid and that the emergency response for New Jersey
left no one behind. Christie also became infamous among his Republican colleagues for being willing to cooperate with Democrats, of all people. After publicly praising Obama for his response to the situation, many Re- publicans felt that Christie was too willing to put his political agenda in front of that of the GOP.
Perhaps that’s exactly why Christie’s future should not be underestimated. Not only does he have an excellent record for cleaning up much of New Jersey’s corruption, delivering balanced budgets through a re- cession, and saving the armpit of the U.S. from a major tidal pit-stink—but he also thanks Democrats for their help, avoiding the stigmas of political blockage and discord that the GOP is bent on making. If only he weren’t such a homophobe, he would have some real staying power!
And yet Christie nominated the first openly gay man to the State Supreme Court, Judge Bruce Harris, though his nomination was ultimately unsuccessful. Furthermore, in August 2013 Christie made New Jersey the second state to ban gay “conversion” therapy. Really makes you wonder whether Christie actually cares about vetoing gay marriage or whether his friends are just making him do it.
While “Bridgegate” has been a public relations disaster for Christie, whether it will come to define his career remains to be seen. Either way, the governor will continue to be one of the strongest leaders in the Republican Party for some time. Media blunders aside, he boasts an impressive résumé. Christie’s place in politics will remain dynamic throughout the coming years, and if you underestimate him… fuhgeddaboutit.