By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
On the day after he announced a two-day summit next month on the future of Atlantic City, casino workers worried about layoffs awaited Gov. Chris Christie’s arrival.
When asked what she wants Christie to do, Theresa Volpe, coordinator for Local 54 UNITE, said, “We want the governor to extend the five-year promise or at least keep us open for four months to try and find a buyer.”
Congressman Frank LoBiondo, who represents this region, voiced his approval of the summit idea.
“I think with all the stakeholders, I looked at the list, it seems like this is the group of people who could come to a consensus and decide. It’s not gonna be fast, it’s not gonna be easy. But this is the group who can make a difference,” he said.
When Christie showed up, things got raucous. Protestors shouted, supporters hugged him. One man dismissed the governor’s offer of a handshake saying, “You disgust me.”
With Atlantic City just 15 miles north of Ocean City, 8,000 casino jobs are about to die.
When asked how concerned he is about Atlantic City, Christie said, “Listen, we have work to do. We’ll just continue to work, Michael. Can’t live concerned. You just have to do your job, work hard. And that’s what we’ll do. We’ve got the summit coming up on the eighth and we’ll work things out. And we’ll be doing a lot of work in between now and then.”
Inside, the governor addressed the Atlantic City issue right off the top.
“So for all those people who I saw as I was walking in who were chanting, ‘Save our jobs,’ I hear you. There’s not a person in this state who I want to lose their job. That’s not good for you and your family. It’s not good for me as governor,” Christie said.
He told them about the summit, then switched to his scheduled topic — the high cost of public employee pensions and health benefits — pointing as he often does to Detroit.
“It ate Detroit alive. And what I’m here to tell you is it is gonna eat New Jersey alive if we don’t do something. It will eat us alive. And if you think it’s just the pensions, it’s not. It’s the health benefits too,” said Christie.
He also pointed to this week’s Pew study that said New Jersey’s state worker health benefit costs are third highest in the nation.
“I wanna give them fair, competitive health insurance. The same that you get. If we brought those costs down to what private employers are paying and brought their contribution up to what private sector employees are paying, a lot of this problem that we have, a $47 billion underfunding in the health insurance program would go away,” Christie said.
Asked about running for president, Christie said he was on vacation with his family last week visited the Reagan library and heard his daughter say, “Oh no, now he’s gonna run.” He said he’ll decide by the end of this year or early next.