Category Archives: Chris Christie

Reality and Our Accounts of It

For all of the new dimensions and innovations he has brought to the worlds of politics and government, Barack Obama still recognizes the value in some tried and true practices that have proven successful over the years.

Case in point: Say something over and over enough times and it will start having an impact on public perception. It’s a strategy that has worked before in New Jersey, and it could be a factor in this year’s campaign for Governor. Back in 1997, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim McGreevey barely uttered a sentence without mentioning that New Jersey had the highest property taxes and auto insurance rates in the nation – and he nearly defeated the incumbent Governor in what would have been a stunning upset. Continue reading

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Will Corruption Count This Time?

Despite our reputation as a state where political corruption runs rampant, corruption rarely plays a role in the outcome of our elections. With a few notable exceptions, candidates who make a priority of leveling ethical charges against their opponents usually end up on the losing end of our electoral contests.

The tactic did not work for Tom Kean Jr. when he ran against Bob Menendez for U.S. Senate in 2006. Likewise, Doug Forrester’s attempt to paint a picture of Jon Corzine as the creation of party bosses fell flat during the 2005 gubernatorial campaign. And the strategy of tying legislative candidates to a Governor surrounded with ethical questions failed to yield dividends in 2003. Not only did the Democratic Party weather the attacks, it actually picked up seats – a rare occurrence for a party in power in a mid-term election.

There are many theories as to why corruption has not worked well as a campaign issue. Continue reading

Upcoming Events

The New Jersey Political Science Association will conduct its annual meeting on Friday, February 27, at the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University.  I will be one several speakers on the panel discussing New Jersey’s 2009 campaign for Governor.

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My research essay on media coverage during the Vietnam War era has been accepted for presentation at an academic conference in New York City (March 14 at Marymount Manhattan College).

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I will be a panelist at the New Jersey Communication Association Conference (March 28 at Kean University), discussing personal privacy on the internet.

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On April 24, I will take part in “A Fiscal Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste,” the Annual Symposium of the State Chapters of the Association of Government Accountants and American Society for Public Administration. I will be on a panel that will discuss “How the Media Crisis Affects the Government Crisis.”

One Campaign Over, A New One Begins

While Barack Obama assembles his cabinet and works on other transition issues, New Jersey already is thinking about another election – the state’s 2009 campaign for Governor.

On the Democratic side, there is little drama. Unless he is offered a cabinet post in the Obama Administration, incumbent Jon Corzine in all likelihood will be on the ballot seeking his second term.

For Republicans, several party members have expressed interest in the Governor’s Office, but U.S. Attorney Chris Christie is regarded as the GOP’s leading candidate. It is easy to see why. As U.S. Attorney, Christie has built a strong reputation cracking down on public corruption, successfully prosecuting some of the most the state’s most powerful political leaders.

All things considered, however, Christie may be better off if he sits out the 2009 race and sets his sites on 2013 instead. Here’s why.

At the moment, New Jersey Democrats are flexing their muscle. Barack Obama carried the state by a comfortable margin on Tuesday and Frank Lautenberg cruised to re-election in the U.S. Senate. Democrats also gained control of a Congressional seat that has been in GOP hands since 1882. And don’t forget that in addition to having a Democrat in the Governor’s Office, the party also holds majorities in both houses of the State Legislature. Add an Obama presidency into the mix and it may not be the most opportune time for a Republican challenger, especially if the Democratic president’s favorability numbers are still riding high next year. Only New Jersey and Virginia will be holding gubernatorial elections next year, so it is conceivable that Obama could come into the Garden State to boost the Democrat cause.

Secondly, at the present time Christie is a one issue candidate and that issue – corruption – seldom resonates with New Jersey voters. It did not work for Tom Kean Jr. when he ran for U.S. Senate two years ago, and Doug Forrester’s attempts to paint Corzine as a candidate created by political bosses failed to take hold in the 2005 gubernatorial campaign. This year, Republicans were unable to win any freeholder seats in Bergen County even though two of the county’s most powerful Democratic leaders were under indictment. Likewise, campaign ads raising questions about John Adler’s connection to a controversial state grant program failed to keep victory out of his hands on Tuesday.

So what does Chris Christie do for the next few years? He should take a lesson from two former Governors.

After Jim Florio lost the 1981 Governor’s election by the narrowest margin in state history, he was considered the frontrunner for the 1985 contest. But with incumbent Governor Tom Kean enjoying great popularity with the New Jersey citizenry, Florio sat out the race and chose instead to run in 1989 when there would be no incumbent on the gubernatorial ballot. The decision proved to be the correct one. He was elected Governor in 1989 with 61 percent of the vote.

There also is a lesson to be learned from Christine Todd Whitman. After she almost upset Bill Bradley in the 1990 U.S. Senate campaign, she used her time wisely to build support for her successful run for Governor in 1993. Hosting a radio talk show (as Whitman did) may not be in the U.S. Attorney’s future, but there are plenty of ways he could make good use of the time between gubernatorial elections.

With a Democratic Administration about to take hold in Washington, D.C., Christie’s days as U.S. attorney are numbered. He can return to private practice with a law firm that will give him the time he needs to sow the seeds for a run in 2013. In the interim, he plays the good soldier in the 2009 gubernatorial race, raising money, delivering surrogate speeches and building goodwill for the GOP standard bearer.

If Corzine wins the election, Christie then has four full years to wage his campaign for Governor. During this time, he can expand his platform beyond the single issue of corruption. He can become a vocal and visible critic of the Democratic Administration, using the populist appeal that has served him well as U.S. Attorney. He can travel around New Jersey and build a stronger statewide identity by speaking at Kiwanis Club luncheons, VFW meetings, county fairs and the like.

From a strategic standpoint, Christie would be at an advantage by not holding a public office where he would be forced to vote on controversial issues. Instead, his public record would be his long list of successful prosecutions as U.S. Attorney. And he gets a few more years to put some distance between a run for Governor and the most serious controversy of his career – the $52 million contract awarded to former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s company to monitor t a criminal settlement.

The big question, however, is whether Christie has the patience to wait until 2013. Politics is a world in which people want things now. But Chris Christie has experience at being patient. Among his hobbies and interests outside the office, he is a fan of New York Mets, a team whose last few seasons have tried the patience of even its most ardent followers.

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The Economy & the Race for Governor

This week’s economic developments have fueled speculation about how the nation’s faltering fiscal health will impact the 2008 presidential election. But looking further ahead to 2009, what does the fiscal crisis mean for New Jersey’s next gubernatorial race? I made an attempt to answer this question in a piece I wrote for the Hall Institute this week: The Economic Crisis and the 2009 Campaign for Governor in New Jersey.

News for A Sunday Afternoon – and More

Immigration was a hot topic in early days of the 2008 presidential campaign, but it has since been eclipsed by the economy and other weighty matters such as lapel pins, cleavage and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

In New Jersey, however, immigration has returned to the headlines, thanks to comments made by U.S. Attorney Chris Christie.

I’ll leave it to others to debate the pros and cons of what Christie said. On that topic, there is no shortage of opinions.

But from a media perspective, the evolution of this story is intriguing.

First of all, Christie made his comments on a Sunday afternoon at a meeting of a local chapter of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey. The group met at a church in Dover.

Chapter meetings of the Latino Leadership Alliance are not the sort of the events that the state’s largest newspaper covers on a regular basis, especially when they take place on Sunday afternoons in Morris County. But on this occasion, the Star-Ledger was there. Perhaps it was because Christie was the speaker, although it is not unusual for the state’s U.S. Attorney to have a public speaking engagement. Perhaps it was the topic. Prior to the meeting, event organizers had said Christie was expected to discuss local issues related to immigration. It also is possible that Christie – or his office – let the media know he planned to makes some comments that were likely to generate good copy.

Whatever the reason, the Star-Ledger was there when Christie, a law enforcement official known for his tough stance on crime, made some surprising comments on immigration. According to the newspaper, he said:

Being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime. The whole phrase of “illegal immigrant” connotes that the person, by just being here, is committing a crime.

Don’t let people make you believe that that’s a crime that the U.S. Attorney’s Office should be doing something about. It is not.

He also told the audience an undocumented immigrant is not a criminal unless that person re-enters the country after being deported. He said the problem of undocumented immigration is an administrative matter that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement should address: If there are undocumented people running around, then Immigration and Customs Enforcement should do their jobs.

Regardless of how one feels about Christie, it is tough to question his ability to use the media effectively. When his office makes arrests, it is not unusual for the press to be there, capturing photos and video images of public officials in handcuffs. Although there have been exceptions, he generally comes across well in news reports. And while he tactfully dodges questions about future political ambitions, his name continues to top the list of potential GOP gubernatorial candidates.

So it is likely that an individual as media savvy as Chris Christie would have known that his comments on immigration were bound to make headlines, especially in Morris County where a local Mayor has long been outspoken on the issue.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Following the Star-Ledger’s initial report, the story was picked up by Associated Press and made its way into several other papers. Then Morristown Mayor Donald C. Cresitello, an advocate for tougher enforcement of immigration laws, demanded that Christie resign, leading to a story in the Daily Record. Next, Christie’s office issued a statement clarifying his comments, generating another Star-Ledger story, as well as an AP report. By the end of the week, the U.S. Attorney’s comments had become the topic for columnists at the Star-Ledger, the Daily Record and politickernj.com.

When I teach public relations, one of the first things I do is have my students read several newspaper articles and try to figure out how each story got into the paper. They usually can easily identify those that stemmed from press releases or conferences, as well those in which a reporter covered breaking news such as a fire or an automobile accident.

What is not so easy to spot is when circumstances and activities below the surface lead to a news report, especially one that has legs like the Christie story. Whether planned or unplanned, this is a textbook example of how a news story evolves—a valuable lesson for public relations practitioners who need to garner news coverage, and perhaps a more valuable lesson for journalists, who need to be aware of attempts to manage and manipulate the media.