By Cathy Chen
Chris Christie has long been known as the politically unconventional governor of New Jersey. His style is described as extremely nontraditional – “brusque”, “brash-talking”, and “unrepentant” by Jena McGregor of the Washington Post – yet extremely effective and always willing to work across party lines.
Chris Christie emerged in the political world as a newcomer ready to challenge incumbent faces of politics. In his 1995 bid for the New Jersey General Assembly, Chris Christie ran against an incumbent ticket, losing decisively to established candidates. After this loss, he was appointed US Attorney for New Jersey by then-President George W Bush. This is where he made his name as a forceful and effective public servant working to reform the corruption and partisanship of the political world – in his seven years as US Attorney he obtained 130 convictions of Democratic and Republican public officials for bribery, tax evasion, corruption, and fraud. With this impressive record, he ran for New Jersey governor and won by a 3.6 point margin.
Since then, Chris Christie has become widely known as a politician skilled at reaching resolutions in the face of partisanship and other obstacles. He has earned widespread acclaim for his actions to help the people of New Jersey – working with Democratic legislative leadership to save the state billions of dollars, increase school funding, and going against other conservative congressmen in order to obtain federal relief funds in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Despite these past successes, recent allegations have brought controversy to Chris Christie’s “unrepentant” style of leadership. First came the fiasco known as “Bridgegate” in early September of 2013. After the mayor of Fort Lee failed to endorse Chris Christie for re-election, the George Washington Bridge received unscheduled closed lanes. As the busiest road bridge in the world (even without unscheduled lane closings), this created a traffic nightmare. Then came the damning evidence: an email from Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff Anne Kelly that read “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”. Governor Christie denied any involvement in this political orchestration.
Shortly afterwards, two more controversies involving his administration came to light.
Following Hurricane Sandy, a committee choosing an agency to create tourism ads decided on a proposal that costed twice as much as the next most expensive proposal. According to the president of the New Jersey advertisement agency Sigma Group, the Christie administration chose not to hire her firm after the group refused to commit to featuring Chris Christie in ads for New Jersey. The ads ran close to Christie’s re-election period and the committee consisted almost exclusively of people who worked for Chris Christie’s administration, prompting allegations of improper use of federal funds by Chris Christie towards his own purposes.
In another economic controversy related to Hurricane Sandy, Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer accused the Christie administration of threatening to withhold Hurricane relief funds unless Mayor Zimmer agreed to support a development project run by the Rockefeller Group, which had close ties to Chris Christie. A spokeswoman for Chris Christie responded strongly, stating that this was “partisan politics at play”, “illogical”, and blatantly “false”. However, Mayor Zimmer has continued to stand beside her statements and alleged that this threat came directly from Governor Chris Christie.
The people of New Jersey seem to doubt Christie’s ignorance of his administration’s illicit actions. A recent study by USA Today and the Pew Research Center found that, out of those who knew of “Bridgegate”, only 32% believed Governor Christie’s lack of knowledge about the actions of his Deputy Chief of Staff; 58% stated that they did not believe Governor Christie’s claims. Despite this, the same poll showed only a 2 point drop in Christie’s favorability rating.
Did Chris Christie’s favorable ratings stay the same because his political accomplishments outweigh the controversies of his administration? Or has the public simply come to expect this sort of controversy from modern politicians?
Is Christie falling into the same patterns of the politicians he so persistently prosecuted 5 years ago or are these allegations to be expected from a politician with such an unconventional and forceful style?
One thing is clear: through his actions, Chris Christie has become well-known – both the USATODAY and Pew study found that a year ago a quarter of respondents had never heard of Chris Christie but now, 84% of respondents had heard of Chris Christie. It remains to be seen if he leaves a legacy as a reformer or just a political bully.
Chris Christie is a member of the Republican Party. He accepts homosexuality but opposed to gay marriage. He is “pro-life with exceptions”. He favors lowering business taxes and lowering spending on entitlement programs. In education, he works towards more charter schools and alleges that the public education system is failing. He is against PPACA.