By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
After months of talking about him, Barbara Buono finally got to talk to him, and although she was plenty feisty, so was he.
“I believe millionaires should pay their fair share and fund middle class property tax relief. He doesn’t. I will never balance my budget on the backs of the middle class and the working poor as this governor has done,” Buono said.
“I know Sen. Buono would never balance her budget that way. I had to balance her budget when I came in in 2010 after she left a $2.2 billion deficit,” Gov. Chris Christie said.
The 60-minute debate at William Paterson University covered a lot of ground, but fiscal policy was at the heart of it.
“If we go back to the days of the Corzine-Buono years, where a quarter of a million jobs were lost, where budgets were unbalanced, where 154 tax and fee increases were done and voted for by Sen. Buono, that’s not gonna make New Jersey better,” Christie said.
“Any time somebody points to the hole that we’re in with our economy, he’s in lightening speed, he points to his predecessor, he points to Democrats. Just recently he pointed a low-level New Jersey Transit employee, and the fact is, governor, you have to man up. You’ve been in office four years. It’s time to own your record and defend your record,” Buono said.
Outside, before the debate, passions ran high with Christie and Buono supporters shouting, “Four more years,” and “No more years,” respectively.
Inside, Buono accused Christie of making decisions with one eye on the White House.
“Governor, it doesn’t bother me that you’re running for president. What bothers me is how you’re running for president,” Buono said.
“The only person obsessed with 2016 on this stage is Sen. Buono,” Christie said.
He never did pledge to serve another full four years.
“I can walk and chew gum at the same time, Christine. I can do this job and also deal with my future,” Christie said.
“I think they both did fine, but unfortunately for Sen. Buono, fine is not good enough,” said Brigid Callahan Harrison, professor of political science at Montclair State University.
Asked to say one thing they like about the other, Buono was snippy.
“Well, he’s good on late night TV. He’s just not good in New Jersey,” she said.
Allowing Christie to take the high road.
“She’s obviously a good and caring mother and someone who cares deeply about public service in this state because she’s devoted a lot of her life to it,” he said.
“He was so statesman-like and he was able to carry this off even at times be gracious to Sen. Buono, which is exactly what she did not want,” Harrison said.
In July, Christie famously said, “The days she debates me will be her worst days of the campaign.”
When Christie advisor Michael DuHaime was asked if the debate was one of the worst days of Buono’s campaign, he said, “It certainly wasn’t her best.”
“She asked him to just man up and take responsibility for where he should be, so I think this is one of her better days,” said Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman.
Neither candidate stuck around to re-live the debate with the media. Representatives of both campaigns seemed genuinely happy with the performances.
Their second and final debate is next Tuesday on NJTV.