Surprisingly—no, actually, shockingly is the right word—Chris Christie got through an entire town hall meeting with several hundred New Jersey residents on Thursday morning without once being asked to say a single word about Bridgegate, the allegations that he withheld Superstorm Sandy aid from Hoboken, or other scandals swirling around the governor. At a VFW hall in the Port Monmouth section of Middletown, in the middle of areas devastated by Sandy in 2012 and still not rebuilt, Christie put on a masterful display, taking question after question from residents who came to beseech the governor and his cabinet about a wide range of problems, from Sandy aid to family law to treatment of disabilities. But no one—not a single questioner—even mentioned the ongoing investigations.
Meanwhile, the governor used part of his performance in Port Monmouth to blame New Jersey’s troubles after Sandy on President Obama, Congress, the Federal Emergency Management Agency—Christie referred to the agency as “the new F-word, FEMA”—and, most surprisingly, the National Flood Insurance Program. He blamed, in short, everyone but himself.
How is it even possible that the lane closing scandal at the George Washington Bridge and the allegations that Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno threatened to cut off Sandy aid to Hoboken unless the mayor of that city backed a development project that Christie wanted weren’t even mentioned? And all this in front of perhaps two dozen cameras from national and local television stations and reporters from throughout New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia, plus quite a few national outlets?
First, as usual in Christie’s town hall events—and this one, he said, was his 110th—reporters don’t get to ask questions.
Second, Christie held the event, his first town hall meeting since last spring and his first public appearance in weeks, on friendly territory, in precincts known to support Christie and the Republican party. And as evidenced by interviews conducted by two Christie Watch reporters with participants, there was indeed a strong reservoir of support for Christie in the room.
Third, according to several participants in the event—which was, to be sure, open to any and all comers—Christie aides and staff both outside and inside the hall told attendees that no signs, posters or placards would be allowed. Gert Sofman of Highlands, New Jersey, whose home and business were both flooded by up to six feet of ocean water and who still hasn’t recovered damages, said that the event’s organizers strictly disallowed any sign of activism inside the building. “They’re shutting down any kind of demonstration,” said Sofman. “I’m so absolutely angry at this point.” And Isabel Newson of Keansburg, a lone activist who pulled out a small sign reading “Christie Resign” toward the end of the event, said that two other, similar signs had been confiscated by the staff.
Fourth, Christie himself, in laying out the ground rules for the event at its start, warned that he wouldn’t be passive if anyone challenged him. If anyone, he said, had it mind, with all the cameras present, to “take the governor out for a walk,” well, he said, “We’re all from New Jersey…If you give it, you’re going to get it back.” Anyone familiar with Christie’s bullying, hectoring YouTube videos in which he lays into critics with abandon knew exactly what they were in for.
And finally—and this is most puzzling—there was no sign at the event of any presence by teachers and trade unions who’ve clashed with Christie, of activist groups such as Citizen Action who’ve opposed him, or from groups such as the Fair Share Housing Center, which has emerged as a key critic of how Christie’s administration has handled the distribution of Sandy-related aid.