Gov. Chris Christie came out swinging Tuesday, June 12, taking the fight to state Assembly Leader Louis Greenwald on his home turf in Haddonfield.
The Republican governor accused Greenwald of standing in the way of a 10-percent tax-cut proposal in front of the Legislature during a nearly two-hour town hall meeting in front of crowd of nearly 600 packed into Haddonfield Middle School.
"Now, we're ready to cut taxes and the only people standing in our way are Lou Greenwald and the Assembly Democrats," said Christie, who is campaigning to have a state budget deal before the end of the month. "I'm coming to Haddonfield today because I need your help. Lou Greenwald, he's your guy. Now we have to put the pressure on him."
Greenwald, who didn't attend the meeting, launched his own preemptive volley with a news release that went out 15 minutes before the governor's town hall meeting started at 3:30 p.m.
"I'd like to welcome Gov. Christie to the 6th District," said the release from the Democratic legislator. "The governor owes the middle-class families and senior citizens who make our communities strong an explanation: When will he give up his obsession with massive tax breaks for the wealthy that continue to harm New Jersey's families?
"And when will he end his policies of catering to the wealthy instead of the middle-class, policies that have landed New Jersey 47th in the nation for economic growth?"
Despite the rancor with Greenwald, most of the nearly two-hour meeting was decidedly nonpartisan. Christie tamed the crowd in the heart of deep-blue, Democrat Camden County with a combination of charm, wit and personable stories.
It was Christie's 83rd town hall meeting since he took office in 2010 and it was obviously a well-oiled routine. He took the stage nearly 30-minutes late at 3:30 p.m. after a water-logged crowd had been packed into the steamy gym for more than an hour. A drenching rain, however, could not dampen the spirits of many -- some supporters, some not -- who came out to see Christie in person.
"I want to see some of the theatrics," Joe Dinella, 53, a construction worker from Collingswood, said before the event. "He's condescending and dismissive of anyone who doesn't share his ideology. Maybe I'll get a question in, too."
Christie did call on Dinella near the end of the of the meeting. He asked about the limits of the 2-percent cap on municipal budget increases and how to more aggressively hold the line on taxes.
Christie listened, attentively, and promised to have the commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs personally call him. But Dinella still wasn't sold.
"I voted for him, but his attitude is wearing a little thin," said Dinella.
Another comment came from "Debbie" of Haddonfield, who applauded Christie for working with state Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat from South Jersey. Christie said the reasons he was late starting was because he was on the phone with Sweeney. He said he considers a Sweeney a friend, despite their differences.
Christie entertained the crowd with one-liners such as:
- "I'm going to be fighting for a budget in Trenton. It might not be pretty and you might have to avert your eyes."
- "I don't think you elected me for my charm and good looks."
- "The only way to make sure not to waste your money in Trenton is not to send it there in the first place."
- "You know that bridge in Trenton that says 'Trenton Makes, the World Takes?' The only thing Trenton makes these days is stupid ideas."
Christie’s favorability and job performance ratings are at their highest since he became New Jersey’s chief executive in January 2010, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton poll. For the first time, 50 percent of registered New Jersey voters feel favorably toward Christie -- an increase of four-percentage points since late March. Those with an unfavorable opinion have declined to 39 percent, while 11 percent continue to hold no opinion.
Despite his popularity, Christie told the crowd he would not recommend a bet on him being Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate.
"Could you see me standing three feet behind the president nodding my head?" he asked the crowd.
No one asked the governor about the proposed merger of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan universities, but it was on a lot of people's minds.
"I really don't think it's necessary," Mary Gramkowski, 63, a retired oncology nurse from Haddonfield, said of the merger. "Both institutions can stand very well on their own."
"It's a joke," Dinella chimed in. "It's a political pay off."
Christie ended the event with a story about his mother who was dying, but urged him to go back to work because they had already said everything that had to be said to each other.
He promised the crowd they would always know what he thought about any issue and he would always work hard for them.
Then the music was queued and Christie walked off, shaking hands and being greeted like a rock star.