Elected: 2009, term expires Jan. 2018, 2nd term.
Born: September 6, 1962, Newark
Education: U. of DE, B.A. 1984; Seton Hall U., J.D. 1987
Professional Career: Practicing attorney, partner, Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci, 1987-2001; U.S. attorney for New Jersey, 2002-08.
Family: married (Mary Pat) , 4 children
Chris Christie, a Republican, was elected governor of New Jersey in 2009 and quickly became lionized in his party as the archetypal “Jersey guy” for his confident, cut-the-crap persona. He was chosen to give the 2012 Republican National Convention’s keynote address and became the subject of speculation about a future White House race, but his record at home led to questions about whether he could win over voters nationally.
Christie grew up in Livingston, a comfortable suburb 10 miles west of Newark, the son of an accountant who was an ardent Republican, and a Sicilian-American mother who was a lifelong Democrat. He was president of his class throughout middle school and high school and was selected for student leadership programs in Washington. In 1977, when he was 15, he volunteered in Republican Thomas Kean’s race for governor, and Kean became his role model. He graduated from the University of Delaware and Seton Hall Law School.
After law school, Christie joined a law firm in Cranford, where he specialized in corporate securities law and appellate work, making partner in 1993. His wife, Mary Pat Christie, pursued a career in investment banking. One of Christie’s law partners, Bill Palatucci, was state coordinator for George H.W. Bush’s campaign in 1992 and the two together raised money in 2000 for his son, George W. Bush. In 1994, Christie was elected as a Republican to the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders. In 1995, he ran for the Assembly but lost to candidates favored by the county Republican organization. In 1997, he was defeated in the Republican primary for the freeholder position.
Christie’s political work paid off when President George W. Bush appointed him U.S. attorney for New Jersey in 2002. This was a critical position in a state known for its corrupt politics; Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito once held the post. Ordinarily, U.S. attorneys are chosen by a state’s senators, but both were Democrats, and Bush evidently wanted to bypass the county Republican organizations and appoint someone who was not indebted to them. The selection was strongly criticized in the state’s legal circles as political patronage; Christie had no experience in criminal law. But he ultimately silenced his critics with a string of successful cases against corrupt public officials, street gangs, child pornographers, and terrorists. He was best known for a crackdown on public corruption in the state that yielded 130 convictions of both Democrats and Republicans, including that of a former state Senate president and a former Newark mayor.
One aspect of his record that drew criticism was his practice of awarding contracts to law firms to monitor corporations. The companies could avoid indictment for fraud if they paid for a monitor to oversee their practices. One such contract went to former Attorney General John Ashcroft; another went to David Kelley, who as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan had declined to charge Christie’s brother, Todd Christie, in a securities fraud investigation. Christie defended the program, saying the contracts were awarded on merit. In June 2009, he stormed out of a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, which was examining the use of deferred prosecution. Christie said that as an Italian-American, he found offensive a comment from one committee Democrat that the companies were pressured to accept the monitoring fees as a result of Mafia-style offers that they “could not refuse.”
In 2008, Christie resigned as U.S. attorney to run against Gov. Jon Corzine, a former U.S. senator and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs. Republicans had not won a statewide race in New Jersey since 1997, when incumbent Gov. Christie Whitman beat Jim McGreevey, 47%-46%. Plus, Corzine had deep pockets, having spent more than $100 million of his own money on his 2000 and 2005 campaigns. But Corzine had problems. He had been unable to fulfill his campaign pledge of lowering property taxes in a state with the highest rates in the nation. And his proposal to increase the tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike to provide long-term financing for transportation was rejected by the Democratic legislature. State government faced dizzying budget shortfalls, and the legislature had passed a temporary “millionaire’s tax” on people with incomes over $400,000.
Christie campaigned as a middle-class native of the state, a father of four children under the age of 15, and a Mets baseball fan. He said he played New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen’s song “Prove It All Night” to get psyched before press conferences, and in 2003 he attended nine Springsteen concerts. (By November 2012, he had attended 130 shows and finally met his idol, after a period of being rebuffed by the singer. “We hugged and he told me it’s official: We’re friends,” the governor exulted to an audience.) Christie was endorsed by most Republican county organizations, but he had primary competition from Steve Lonegan, former mayor of Bogota in Bergen County, who said Christie was insufficiently conservative at a time when the tea party movement was gaining strength. But Christie won the June primary 55%-42%.
In the fall campaign, Christie led Corzine consistently in polls. He said he would slash state spending down to essentials, take on powerful public employee unions and, finally, cut property tax rates. Corzine criticized Christie for not being specific about his proposed spending cuts and charged that he would ravage the environment and curtail abortion rights. Corzine ultimately spent $27 million of his own money on the campaign, while Christie was limited by New Jersey’s public financing law to spending $11 million. Corzine’s ads focused on Christie’s monitoring contracts, on his failure to report a $46,000 loan to one of his top aides, and even on the issue of his being overweight. One ad depicted the corpulent Christie struggling to emerge from a car with the suggestion that as U.S. attorney, he had “thrown his weight around” during a traffic stop.
By mid-October, Corzine and Christie were running about even in the polls, with Christopher Daggett, a former Republican running as an independent, getting as much as 20%, apparently splitting the anti-Corzine vote. Democratic strategists tried to bolster Corzine, and Obama came in to campaign for him. But Christie beat him 48%-45%, with 6% for Daggett. Christie ran well in the central part of the state, with popular vote margins in Monmouth and Ocean counties on the Jersey Shore exceeding Corzine’s margins in Hudson and Essex counties (Jersey City and Newark). He also carried normally Democratic Middlesex County. At his victory celebration, Christie blasted Springsteen’s “Born to Run” on the sound system and pledged to immediately begin “the task of fixing our broken state.”
When Christie settled into budget-making, the outlook was grim: State government faced a projected deficit of $11 billion. In March 2010, he unveiled a $29 billion budget plan that leaned heavily on spending cuts, including layoffs of 1,300 state workers, a $3 billion reduction in scheduled pension payments, and an $820 million cut in aid to schools. The proposal aimed to save on Medicaid costs by establishing a $350 deductible for beneficiaries. He reneged on a campaign promise to allow a popular property tax rebate scheduled for May 2010 to go through, announcing he was suspending it for a year. Addressing the legislature, Christie said, “We jump off the cliff together to stave off certain fiscal death for the hope of economic salvation tomorrow.” Although Democratic Speaker Sheila Oliver called the budget a “disaster for middle-class families,” she said her party would be willing to work with Christie on a proposal to cap yearly property tax increases at 2.5%. When the legislature voted to extend the millionaire’s tax, Christie immediately vetoed it.
He also took on New Jersey’s state employee unions. In early 2010, he issued an executive order limiting their political spending, but it was overturned in court. From there, his relationship with the unions was all downhill. When the head of the New Jersey Education Association came to his office, he told her she must fire the head of the Bergen County branch, who in an e-mail had wished for Christie’s death. The NJEA head refused and Christie said she was no longer welcome in the governor’s office. In April 2010, Christie charged that teachers union members were “using the students like drug mules” to distribute propaganda to parents. In response to his urgings, twice as many voters came out in the April school elections and rejected proposed property tax increases.
Next, Christie picked a fight with the judicial branch. In May 2010, he refused to reappoint Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, as previous governors had routinely done, because of what he called “out of control” activism on the court. Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney refused to let the Senate vote on Christie’s nominee to fill the post. Christie challenged other shibboleths. Among his education reforms, he called for eliminating tenure for ineffective teachers and increased pay for those with master’s degrees. In January 2011, he argued that low-performing school districts be permitted to hire superintendents without education Ph.D.s, as had been done in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
In October 2010, he canceled proposed rail tunnels to Manhattan, turning down $3 billion in federal money on the grounds that estimated costs for the project were rising to $14 billion and that the state would be stuck paying for the cost overruns. “There are new rules of engagement, New Jersey, and here’s the most important one—we do not spend money we do not have,” he said. Yet Christie did not totally cut off relations with New Jersey Democrats. He continued to negotiate with Sweeney and Oliver, and he kept in close and friendly touch with Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. In March 2011, his proposals to cut business taxes passed both houses of the legislature unanimously.
His confrontations with public employee unions helped make him a national political figure. His staff distributed to YouTube dozens of videos produced by hand-held cameras at his town hall meetings. In one video, he explained his confrontational style: “I have an Irish father and I had ... a Sicilian mother. For those of you who have been exposed to the combination of Irish and Sicilian, it has made me not unfamiliar with conflict.” Suddenly, Christie had an immense following, with his videos getting over 1 million views.
During the 2011 legislative session, Christie vetoed Democratic bills taxing millionaires to pay for schools and to provide tax relief for low-income workers. He also vetoed $7.5 million for family planning clinics, but redirected those dollars towards Federally Qualified Health Centers, which provide some of the same services for women minus the more controversial family planning. Christie used his line-item veto to cut $900 million from a Democratic spending plan and avert a government shutdown. This included slashing $139 million in aid to cities and reducing salaries in the state Senate and Assembly. Christie also signed a bill in June 2011 requiring that public employees pay more money for their pensions and health insurance.
He pushed hard for a tax cut in 2012, at one point referring to a key committee chairman as an “arrogant SOB.” But Democrats countered that the move was irresponsible with the state emerging from recession. He did achieve a significant victory when lawmakers approved a higher education bill that handed control over most of New Jersey’s University of Medicine and Dentistry, which had suffered numerous problems, to Rutgers University.
Christie has generally kept a lower profile on hot-button social issues; he opposes abortion and gay marriage but has not made those positions a focal point of his administration. One issue where he did differ from social conservatives nationally was in his support of gun control. “What I support are common-sense laws that will allow people to protect themselves, but I also am very concerned about the safety of our police officers on the streets, very concerned,” he told Fox News in 2009. On illegal immigration, he told Politico in 2010 that America needs to develop “a clear path to citizenship.” He also has stated his belief in climate change, though he withdrew the state’s support of a regional cap-and-trade program for power plants. And when he faced a backlash on the right in July 2011 for appointing a judge who, as a lawyer, defended Muslims detained after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Christie disgustedly said the criticism was “crazy, and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies.”
As the Republican presidential field took shape in 2011, donors and grass-roots activists dissatisfied with their choices began touting a Christie candidacy. A handful of wealthy GOP donors, led by Home Depot mogul Kenneth Langone, urged him to run, but Christie insisted that he was uninterested. Instead, he threw himself into campaigning on behalf of GOP nominee Mitt Romney, traveling to more than a dozen states and occasionally engaging hecklers at rally events. In his convention keynote, however, Christie avoided coming across as pugnacious. He talked about his own accomplishments in detail, leading many political observers to regard his remarks as less of an endorsement for Romney than a pitch to be taken seriously in 2016. He told Fox News that he avoided blasting Obama because he wanted to emphasize Republican ideas.
In the closing days of the 2012 campaign, Hurricane Sandy ravaged New Jersey's coastline. Christie accompanied Obama to damaged areas and heaped praise on the president’s responsiveness. Asked about the wisdom of offering such accolades so close to the election, he was dismissive: “I’ve got a job to do here in New Jersey that’s much bigger than presidential politics, and I could care less about any of that stuff.” When House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, subsequently delayed a vote on Sandy relief legislation, an apoplectic Christie called the decision “absolutely disgraceful ... It’s why the American people hate Congress.” The bill eventually passed and became law, but Christie paid a political price among the GOP base. When the high-profile Conservative Political Action Conference was planned for March 2013, Christie not only wasn’t among the speakers, he wasn’t invited to the event. He further irked conservatives when he announced an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program.
At home, Christie entered 2013 stronger politically than ever. In February, a Quinnipiac University poll gave him an approval rating of 74%—the highest Quinnipiac had found in 17 years of polling on New Jersey governors. To boot, nearly half of Democrats surveyed—48%—felt that he deserved another term. He won the June GOP primary with 92% of the vote and was a heavy favorite against Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono. Democrats had wanted Newark Mayor Cory Booker to challenge Christie, but Booker chose the far easier path of running for retiring Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg's seat (he ultimately won it in a special election after Lautenberg's death). Buono struggled to raise money and boost her name recognition, and had to parry Republican attacks that her election would mark a return to Corzine-style government. Christie won with 60%, an astonishing figure in such a heavily Democratic state.
The victory fueled ample speculation about Christie's chances for the White House. But then came "Bridgegate." In September 2013, two of the three toll lanes on the George Washington Bridge linking Fort Lee, N.J., to New York were closed to morning rush-hour traffic. Streets were backed up for several days until the Port Authority -- citing a potential danger to lives -- reopened the lanes. Several Christie staffers resigned, and the governor fired his deputy chief of staff after an email surfaced saying it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." There was considerable speculation that the move was made to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who had refused to endorse Christie's reelection.
Christie adamantly denied knowing anything about the lane closures. He hired a law firm that issued a report clearing him of any wrongdoing, though critics dismissed it as a whitewash. Numerous investigations were launched; ABC News reported that the FBI and federal prosecutors had questioned Christie at his mansion. But his approval rating among the state's voters plunged below 50% and stayed there throughout 2014, according to Quinnipiac's polls.
Christie became bedeviled by another issue: pensions. He had touted his 2011 bill overhauling the state's pension system as a sterling example of how he could work with Democrats to achieve a much-needed fiscal goal. By the law's third year, however, the state found that it lacked the money required to cover pension contributions. The Legislature passed a budget that financed the contributions with tax increases, including one on incomes exceeding $1 million.
Christie vetoed those hikes and reduced the new pension contribution to less than half of the targeted amount. Public employee unions responded by taking the state to court, and in February 2015, state Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that the unions had a constitutionally protected contractual right to the payments. Several months earlier, Standard & Poor's cited the issue in downgrading New Jersey's credit rating for the eighth time during Christie's tenure -- the most of any Garden State governor.
Though he earlier had declared the problem resolved, Christie had to return to saying he would address it. "I did not come here today just to identify the problem, shrug my shoulders and return to business as usual,” he said in unveiling a new plan to legislators. “This is the type of leadership our state requires ... I will never stop working to fix the problems we have previously ignored.” He again declared that he would tackle the state's problems without raising taxes, even as Democratic lawmakers called for a gasoline-tax increase.
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Hall of the States
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Trenton, NJ 08625
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46 Corey Lane
Mendham, NJ 07945
46 Corey Lane
Mendham, NJ 07945