By David Cruz
Gov. Chris Christie’s town hall tour continues to pack ‘em in. Today’s event was in Hunterdon County, another Christie-friendly part of the state, where he got frequent applause and laughs. Even a question about the George Washington Bridge scandal — and his former deputy chief of staff — served as an opportunity for the governor to immunize himself against his critics.
“After Bridget Kelly told you that she had lied to you about her involvement with the closing of the lanes, the next day you had a press conference and said you fired her for lying to you,” said one man. “That is a very self-centered reason for firing someone. Her real offense was being involved in the shutting down of the GWB.”
But Christie said Kelly’s lie wasn’t the only reason for her dismissal. “Do not take from my silence on the act that the act was countenanced,” he said. “In fact, the whole press conference was about the fact that what happened was absolutely unacceptable, and that I didn’t know anything about it and if I had I wouldn’t have permitted it. My view was that inherent in what I was saying was that I disapproved of the act as well.”
The governor actually got some sympathy from this crowd, an hour away from the entrance lanes to the George Washington Bridge.
“People are getting the impression that you’re guilty before being proven innocent and I don’t think enough people are defending you on that,” said another woman, to which Christie responded, “I appreciate that, but let me just say something. When you’re in public life, you have to come to grips with the fact that you aren’t always treated fairly.”
But not everyone in the room had the same sympathy for the governor. Demonstrators were here again today, but they took a different tack. Rather than interrupt — as the governor expected — they stood in unison and raised their hands. They were not called on.
“I mean if the governor says nobody’s asking about these questions and he ignores them, then we’ll try to raise our hands,” said Giancarlo Tello of New Jersey Working Families Alliance. “If he still doesn’t, then what does he have to hide? Why doesn’t he call on us and why doesn’t he answer the hard questions?”
Ann Vardeman, of NJ Citizens Action, said the demonstrators wanted to show that the governor wasn’t going to acknowledge them, regardless of what they did. “What we thought was that we would come in and we would follow the rules,” she said. “We would be respectful; we would do exactly what the governor says in his rules at the beginning of the town hall and try to get a question asked.”
Afterward, the governor lingered backstage, smiling and joking with staff and a select group of residents, again, ignoring our questions.
The governor didn’t have a message for us specifically, but he did have a message for his supporters in the audience and there were many today. He said: don’t feel sorry for me, I have a great job.