Gubernatorial Candidates Hit the Diner Circuit

By David Cruz

The battleground today was, again, the Jersey diner. Barbara Buono was in Nutley, where she was born, at the Nutley Diner, where she worked as a teenager.

“This is my first job and I’ll never forget my father, so overprotective Italian father,” she recalled. “He said, ‘Barbara I don’t want you working there. I will pay you the money they will pay you,’ and I said, ‘No. I want my own money.’”

Buono shared that story with several patrons at the half-full diner, today’s theme being “Jobs and the Economy.”

“I think as public officials, we have to make good on our promise of the American Dream and in my estimation, the American Dream is, if you work hard enough, you should be able to live a good life and not live on subsistence wages,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to subsist, you should be able to thrive.”

Career cop Scott McNulty just retired from the force this week. Changes to his pension are fresh on his mind. Gov. Chris Christie’s broken promises to cops and firefighters, he says, and the governor’s personal style have turned McNulty off.

“He bullies people. He cows them down. You know, if you have a counterpoint, he doesn’t want to hear your counterpoint,” he said. “He’s just interested in yelling at you and screaming at you and belittling you and then having you removed from the situation, which is I guess his right as governor, but it’s a poor way of dealing with things.”

Just two miles away, Christie’s tour bus pulled into the parking lot at the Tick Tock Diner, the governor accompanied by the first lady. Christie’s crowd was larger than Buono’s and, as usual, mostly adoring. But, for once, albeit briefly, the clockwork precision of a Christie meet-and-greet was thrown off.

“This is a con-job,” shouted a heckler. “You’re just running for president on our backs. You’re running for president on our backs. Be honest with the people of this state.”

The heckler was John Howard of Clifton, who said he was there on his own accord. He had asked the governor a question about the health insurance exchanges and wasn’t happy with the response.

“No, I was not. That’s why I did raise my voice and left right away,” he said. “The response I got from him was for him to start to talk about Obama and about the president, not dealing with my question and why he refused to participate and set up a New Jersey marketplace for health insurance.”

Howard was escorted out of the diner by Christie’s security detail as supporters chanted Christie’s name. Then it was back to the photo ops and autographs that take up most of the time at these events. Christie was joined by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at several other stops today, prompting his opponent to comment, “Gov. Christie doesn’t like to talk about his record. All he talks about is first, second and third word is Superstorm Sandy and Giuliani did a similar thing and we saw unsuccessful that was with respect to 9/11.”

But Christie said he was happy to have Giuliani stumping for him. “I think people appreciate strong leadership and the mayor certainly has been a role model for that his entire career, for me and for lots of other people,” he said. “Any time that anybody would compare me to Rudy Giuliani in the same sentence is a great day for me.”

The governor’s day may not have gone without a hitch, but he is still attracting large crowds to his Jersey diner stops. For her part, Buono said she feels the campaign surging in these final days but added, “I hope we have enough time.”