By David Cruz
Gov. Chris Christie’s urban charm offensive continues. Today, the Republican governor was in Newark, helping to unveil a statue dedicated to the founder of the North Ward Center and political kingmaker Steve Adubato Sr. It was Christie’s visit to Newark’s North Ward four years ago that helped solidify the governor’s position and it was here that he visited on his first day in office.
“The best story from that day of course, is that the fleece that I wore throughout the entire storm was given to me that morning here, by him,” the governor recalled. “This is how much confidence I had that you were going to win. I started laughing and I said, ‘Where’s Corzine’s?’ because I knew it was under the table because [he] had both made up.”
Christie didn’t win heavily-Democratic Essex County four years ago, getting around 5 percent, but this year, he expects to do much better. To that end he has formed an alliance with Adubato protégée Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, who controls the county’s Democrats, which includes a lot of minorities, a key demographic that Christie is courting heavily with help from the national party.
“He’s reaching out,” insisted DiVincenzo. “He’s making a point of it. I’ve been campaigning with him throughout all of Essex County so I see it.”
“As for his policies, there’s no question there’s a concern there, but they’re hoping with him there, they could sit down with him and start changing some of his philosophy and the way he thinks,” he added.
There may be some evidence of that. Last week the governor made headlines when he seemed to support tuition equality, which would allow undocumented residents to pay in-state tuition, an issue that has been close to Latino voters. Some were wondering of Christie was simply courting Latinos or if Latinos were having an effect on the candidate.
“I’m not sure what the genesis of that is,” said Sen. Teresa Ruiz. “You know, when people are looking to cast their votes, they start looking at subject matter, right across the board. So, let’s just remove the individual, remove the party: Education, public safety, you know. So when they start talking to him on some of those fronts, I think that’s where people start really leaning in his direction.”
A recent poll showed Christie getting 36 percent of likely black voters — even Shaquille O’Neal came out for the governor, calling him “a great man.” But not everyone is convinced that the governor’s altruism is genuine.
“I tend to find Republicans only really look at things when they impact them personally. Other than that, it’s fend for yourself, you know, I’ve got mine, you get yours, until it impacts something that’s important to them,” said Rep. Donald Payne Jr.
Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Phil Thigpen gave Christie credit for reaching out to minority voters. “But the question is what the reception is, and I’m not so sure about that at this point,” he said. “He could do a little more in that regard, maybe widen his circle of advisors.”
The governor doesn’t have to win a majority of minority voters to win big next week, but all indications are that he’s going to fight for every one of those votes. Tomorrow he’s in the city again, marking the first anniversary of Sandy with a special prayer service at New Hope Baptist Church.