For Christie, Press Conferences Now a Rarity

NEWARK (AP) -

As he prepares for a potential presidential run, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been spending a lot of time in New Jersey, taking questions from residents at weekly town halls events.

What he hasn’t done, however, is take many questions from the press.

It has now been five months since the governor held a formal news conference in New Jersey where reporters have been able to ask open-ended, on-the-record questions about his policies, thinking and plans. The last was on Nov. 12 in Atlantic City following a closed-door summit on the city’s future that was dominated by questions on the topic.

In fact he’s answered questions here just twice — once following a major fire and once ahead of an impending snowstorm — in the 2015 calendar year.

“The access has just been minimal at best. And that’s certainly a concern that’s been expressed to me,” said George White, the executive director of the New Jersey Press Association for the past four years.

Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts noted the governor had also held scrums during trips to Canada in December and London in February, in addition to participating in a monthly call-in radio show.

“The governor believes it’s just as important, if not more important, to communicate directly with his constituents as it is to communicate with the media, which is why he’s held town halls every single week since his budget address and 134 since taking office,” Roberts said in a statement. “That’s in addition to the formal and informal settings in which he’s taken questions from the media, including his hour-long, monthly radio program where he takes questions for listeners and the news director of NJ 101.5.”

He’s also done several recent one-on-one interviews on softer topics, like his upcoming high school reunion, and appeared on a new political cooking show where he chatted while preparing pasta.

But critics say the formats are not the same as press conferences where reporters can ask follow-ups on any subject. Walter Luers, president of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, said the efforts appeared to be aimed at avoiding any potential gaffes that could dog Christie on the national stage.

“You can’t risk having a gaffe that gets exploited in New Hampshire or Iowa,” he said, referring to the first two early-voting states.