Gov. Chris Christie’s first town hall meeting in six months began with a detailed, if not dry, explanation of his pension reform plan. He pointed to charts around the room at the Moorestown Recreation Center in Burlington County that detailed the state’s budget woes, and he regaled the friendly crowd of more than 400 with stats on non-recurring revenues and discretionary funds. He said that he had signed an agreement with his long-time foe, the New Jersey Education Association teachers union, on a “road map” for fixing the state’s deeply underfunded public employee pension fund, and he criticized the local press for reporting that the union questioned the significance of that agreement.
In other words, on this particular day, Christie was most certainly Governor Christie. He wasn’t potential presidential candidate Christie. The fact that all of the questions he got from the audience were New Jersey related seemed to accentuate that fact.
But the reality is that Christie has been traveling the country on the dime of a political action committee that he started to help pave the way for a presidential campaign. He has been out of the state for all or part of 27 days so far this year — that’s just about 50 percent of 2015 — and Thursday he will be speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference in Maryland.
New Jerseyans have noticed. Polls show the state’s residents are increasingly unhappy with him because they believe he is focusing on running for president instead of running New Jersey.
Wednesday’s town hall is the beginning of a new round of forums in which Christie seeks to reassure his home state voters that he has most assuredly not abandoned them.
“There’s all this conversation about me running for president…and there’s this sense or feeling that that decision will determine whether I do my job or not, whether I’m here or not…But the point is that I am focused on this job. I care about this job…I don’t know what I’m going to do and I have not made up my mind. And so I want you to know that I am working hard every day to make sure we get the things done in the state that we need to get done.”
“And if I decide to run for president, you’ll all hear about it first — well, after Mary Pat and the kids — the people of the state will hear about it first.”
That seemed to indicate that if he runs for president, he will make the announcement in New Jersey. (My guess on possible locations: Ellis Island, Camden, Morristown.)
“I love this job…Just because I may have to consider what [my] next job may be doesn’t mean I’m not on the job doing the job I need to do here. I can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Christie thanked the crowd and walked backstage, where he did an exclusive interview with Mark Halperin, a reporter for Bloomberg Politics who wrote the two biggest books about the last two presidential campaigns.