Republican Gov. Chris Christie has been asked to apologize for referring to the first black female leader of the state Assembly by race and gender, not by name, during a church-hosted meeting.
Christie, who is white, told an audience Tuesday that an “African-American female speaker of the Assembly” is blocking a vote on a school voucher bill that would let children in failing districts attend classes elsewhere.
Democratic Speaker Sheila Oliver later said she was “appalled” that Christie injected race into the discussion on education. Oliver, who represents a district with some failing schools, has said she believes the state should make a larger investment in public education.
“I was and am saddened by the governor’s blatant attack,” said Kenneth Clayton, pastor of the Paterson church that hosted Christie. “The words that the governor chose to use in speaking of Oliver … defy his earlier assertion that political leaders, himself included, need to learn to respect all views and work together.”
Christie’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak, noted that the head of the Black Ministers Council, Bishop Reginald Jackson, said in 2010 that the fate of the stalled voucher bill was in the hands of the Legislature’s Democratic majority, especially Oliver.
Jackson, an advocate of the bill, said, “The Democratic Party must stop taking us for granted and failing to act for our children.”
Christie traveled to South Jersey on Wednesday to pick up the endorsement of a black Democrat in rural Chesilhurst. The mayor’s endorsement may not mean much to the overall vote total, but garnering Democrat support is important symbolically.
For Christie, winning in Chesilhurst would be especially sweet; it’s one of three towns former Republican governor Tom Kean, his political mentor, didn’t carry in his 1985 re-election victory.
“It is with great glee that I will depart Chesilhurst and call Gov. Kean today and tell him, ‘Now we’ll see; maybe I’ll be able to win one of those towns you couldn’t win,’” Christie said Wednesday. “I think I have a better chance now that I have the mayor’s support.”
The mayor, Michael Blunt, would not weigh in on Christie’s dust-up with Oliver. When pressed, though, he said he would not be bothered if Christie referred to him as “the African-American mayor.”