New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is holding town hall meetings in Republican-controlled areas, renewing attacks on public employees and avoiding settings where reporters could ask about scandals that have hobbled the start of his second term and question his viability to run for president.
Christie’s new game plan comes as federal and legislative investigations threaten to drag on for months. Authorities are looking into twin scandals — an alleged plot to manufacture traffic jams as political retribution by Christie loyalists and alleged threats by two members of his Cabinet to hold up a riverfront city’s storm recovery funds unless its mayor approved a favored redevelopment project.
“He’s trying to go back to the old game plan, the game plan that established him as the national figure that he is,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat who many say hopes to succeed Christie as governor. “It doesn’t surprise me — it worked once.”
Christie, 51, who may run for president in 2016, has not answered reporters’ questions since a marathon Jan. 9 press conference that was all about the unfolding plot to back up traffic at the George Washington Bridge, perhaps to punish a Democratic adversary.
“You folks are the only people at the moment who are asking me about this,” Christie told one radio host who broached the topic. “The public understands there are a lot of public issues that confront the state. I will be [lost] if I let any of this stuff get in the way of doing my real job.”
Since he resumed holding town hall meetings two weeks ago, the scandals have not been raised by anyone in the audience. Christie said he was not surprised. “People care about real problems,” he said.
Political science professor Brigid Harrison concurs — to a point.
“There is a recognition on the part of most New Jerseyans that the governor is not willing to discuss bridge-gate in a meaningful fashion, so asking any questions would provide him with an opportunity to either joke or defuse,” Harrison said.
“His ability to communicate with a relatively small audience in person is magnificent,” said Harrison, who had witnessed some of Christie’s 111 town hall meetings. “He’s very comfortable in this environment and he emerges with very positive ratings.”