By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Last year’s State of the State address came five days after the Bridgegate scandal broke.
“Mistakes were clearly made and as a result we let down the people we’re entrusted to serve,” Gov. Chris Christie said then.
This year’s speech comes amid a report by ABC News that federal prosecutors interviewed Christie at Drumthwacket last month.
And other reports that U.S. attorney Paul Fishman has issued fresh subpoenas related to Bill Baroni’s appearance before a legislative panel and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop’s contention that Christie cabinet officers canceled meetings with him after he declined to endorse the governor for reelection.
“We’re aware that it continues to be ongoing and we haven’t really commented on over the last year because out of respsect to the U.S. attorney’s office. And we’re going to continue to do that. So I’m going to play out. Nothing was a surprise to us, we’ll go from there,” said Fulop.
“The real damage from Bridgegate has been that effectively nullified 2014 as a year to do anything. It was a waste,” said Rider University Professor Ben Dworkin.
Dworkin calls this year’s speech a chance to hit the reset button.
Christie is in a new phase of his governorship.
Gone are the town hall meetings.
Gone are the frequent State House news conferences.
Christie was out of state 137 days last year.
The Washington Post reported this week that Jeb Bush’s creation of two fundraising PACs puts pressure on Christie.
“Bush’s aggressive entrance in the race has sped up the timing of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is preparing to make a public move toward running at the end of this month,” wrote the Post.
“The fact that Jeb Bush is out there aggressively making moves towards his own bid for the presidency forces Chris Christie to start moving more aggressively himself. He might have waited until the spring to make any official announcements. Now he’s indicated he’ll do something before the end of the month. And what that does for the State of the State is that it puts even more pressure on to use it as a swan song, to use it as a speech to talk about ‘look how far we’ve come,'” Dworkin said.
This year’s speech also comes against the backdrop of the flap that’s developed over Christie and the Dallas Cowboys.
“The real fallout from the gifts from Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, is like the fallout from Bridgegate. It makes Christie seem like a typical politician. And he has cultivated an image over five years of being the atypical politician,” said Dworkin.
With a big speech looming, Christie has a ready-made excuse if he wanted to skip this weekend for the Cowboys’ game in Green Bay. That’s what a typical politician might do, but Christie is going. Paying his own way this time and sitting in the owners box, we don’t know yet.