By Brenda Flanagan
In 2013, Gov. Chris Christie drove New Jersey’s political narrative. Unbeatable, unstoppable — looming large on the political stage.
“Well, how about this, New Jersey?,” said Christie.
All smiles in November but Christie kicked off the year with a furious political broadside, aimed at Congressional Republicans, who kept delaying the vote on a $60 million aid package for New Jersey victims of Superstorm Sandy.
“There’s only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims – the House majority and their speaker John Boehner,” said Christie.
Hours later, Boehner scheduled the vote – and Jan. 4th, Congress approved New Jersey’s aid. Amidst jokes about “throwing his weight around,” the governor appeared on David Letterman early in February – and casually pulled a donut out of his pocket – even offered to share.
Three months later – looking a little leaner — Christie confirmed he’d undergone lap band surgery – to stay healthy for his family. Later that month, he played outraged parent and castigated Rutgers Athletic Director Mike Rice’s brutal treatment of his players, caught on tape.
“To me, the conduct on that tape is unacceptable,” said Christie.
While the governor roundly condemned Rice – who got fired — Christie expressed continued support for embattled Rutgers President Robert Barchi as the Rutgers crisis played out in one ugly story after another.
June brought tragedy to New Jersey.
Jersey native James Gandolfini died of a heart attack at only 51 years of age and New Jersey’s senior U.S. senator, Frank Lautenberg, died of pneumonia at age 89.
Lautenberg left a rich legislative legacy that included setting a federal minimum drinking age of 21, and banning smoking on domestic flights…
“In his heart and for his lifetime – he was a man from Paterson – a kid from New Jersey,” said William Menen.
The first post-Sandy summer down the Shore featured the controversial ad campaign designed to bring tourists back to the beaches and boardwalks.
It didn’t work. In September, a fire sparked by a suspected electrical short roared down the newly-rebuilt boardwalk in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, devouring businesses and bringing disaster-weary residents to tears.
“Everything u worked so hard for is gone, I have no insurance, everything is gone – the summer was bad – Ive got two babies at home,” said Nick Dionisio, owner of the Park Seaford .
And in the streets of Newark, Camden and Trenton, bullets flew, gunning down a record number of victims in Trenton. Its mayor – facing federal indictment – didn’t want to face the media.
“Some of the people here and some council members aren’t supporting you. Next question, please?” said Trenton mayor Tony Mack.
State troopers started patrolling several cities, to help keep the peace.
“If you want to continue to wage war on the streets of Trenton, we will come at you with everything we’ve got,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman.
Meanwhile, the special Senate election rolled on. Tea Party candidate Steve Lonegan ran a scrappy race – he got Christie’s endorsement — but lost to Newark Mayor Cory Booker by ten points.
When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, Booker’s political ally, Gov. Christie, dropped the state’s case against same-sex marriage – happy couples wed Oct.21.
“By the power vested in me I declare you joined in marriage cheers,” said Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.
2013 also saw the DREAM Act become law in New Jersey – giving undocumented residents tuition equality but no financial aid for college. A compromise.
“We are New Jerseyans – We call this our home – this was the best bill for New Jersey and we’re only getting half of it,” said Anna Bonilla.
“To me the most important part is – the governor will sign today – making this legislation effective immediately,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
But politics finally caught up to Christie at year’s end, the Bridge-gate controversy put him on the defensive and forced him to except the resignation of of two personal friends he’d appointed to the Port Authority. With more hearing scheduled and subpoenas served, it’s a scandal that will continue to dog the governor well into 2014.