Dem Powerbroker Teases, Praises Christie

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) -

One of New Jersey’s most powerful Democrats is standing behind Gov. Chris Christie, praising the Republican for working on behalf of the state without regard to politics at a ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday for a new kind of school in Camden.

“In my lifetime, there has never been a governor of any party who has worked harder or more diligently to help south Jersey, the city of Camden,” said powerbroker George Norcross, whose family’s foundation is a partner in creating the school. “You are our friend. You will be our friend.”

The words seemed to take Christie aback a bit.

And they came only after Norcross, an insurance executive, part owner of the company that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer, and hospital board chairman who has no official title in the southern New Jersey Democratic Party he’s seen as leading, turned the event into a roast for Christie.

He teased Christie about the bridge scandal that has embroiled his administration.

“There’s one thing the governor, with all his power, has not been able to achieve,” Norcross said. “I’m the one that’s able to shut down a bridge.” He was referring to a charity run he sponsors each November on the Ben Franklin Bridge between south Jersey and Philadelphia.

Camden, near Philadelphia, has long been one of the nation’s most impoverished and crime-ridden cities. Norcross said after Wednesday’s ceremony that Christie has done more good. He cited a new county-run police force, the opening of the medical school in the city, a broad new system of business incentives and helping bring a cancer center to the hospital whose board Norcross runs.