Kevin Riordan: Chris Christie, superstar

New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon (right) is just one of the personalities with whom Gov. Christie has been seen in public. Christie has even said nice things about Democrats.
New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon (right) is just one of the personalities with whom Gov. Christie has been seen in public. Christie has even said nice things about Democrats.
Posted: October 05, 2010

Chris Christie is so ubiquitous, stumping for the GOP everywhere from Iowa to Hollywood, that I half-expected him to pop up in The Social Network.

Watching this shrewdly hyped movie in Cherry Hill over the weekend, I reminded myself that it was the real-life Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg with whom New Jersey's celebrity governor recently shared some invaluable face time.

News of Zuckerberg's $100 million challenge grant to benefit Newark's schools went viral just a week before the film - which portrays him as something of a vengeful nerd gone wild - debuted nationwide.

Zuckerberg made his largesse official by appearing on Oprah Sept. 24 with Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker. "I believe in these guys," the boy billionaire, who until recently had shown no particular affection for New Jersey, explained after Ms. Winfrey asked, "Why Newark?"

Zuckerberg's mega-bucks, Booker's mega-charisma, and even Oprah's mega-everything in no way eclipsed our Republican governor's rising star. If the King of Facebook wants to refine his image, he could take a cue or two from Chris.

In a classy dark suit and jazzy yet tasteful tie, the big guy deftly deflected the Democratic mayor's mini-zinger about public school teachers ("We can't bash them," Booker said) with bipartisan gusto.

"What Cory and I need to do is get away from things that have divided us on this education issue in the past," Christie declared before reminding everyone that the struggle over the future and funding of public education is "about the children."

Still channeling Hillary Rodham Clinton, the governor also avoided mentioning the dozens upon dozens of anti-Christie pages (sample: "Chris Christie is ruining NJ schools") all over, yes, Facebook.

Gubernatorial diplomacy also ruled earlier in the month when Christie appeared at a salute to the Cooper University Hospital trauma center in Camden. "I want to thank Mr. Norcross" for the invitation, the governor said, referring to the hospital's board chairman (and noted Democrat powerbroker), George E. Norcross 3d.

Mentioning that he'd come down from Trenton that afternoon in the company of another powerful Democrat, N.J. Senate President Steve Sweeney, Christie launched into 10 off-the-cuff minutes less noteworthy for content ("We must all work together") than tone ("We must all work together").

"We're seeing the image of our state transformed around the country," Christie said.

This he modestly attributed not to himself, but to Republicans and Democrats "not only talking to each other but working together and compromising with each other . . . rather than throwing the latest accusation out there [to] score political points."

Which brings us to Christie's celebrated encounter two weeks ago with a heckler at a Hollywood "town hall meeting" for Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate for California governor.

See it for yourself on YouTube. As Whitman basks in applause, a man in the front row harangues her about acting like "Arnold [Schwarzenegger] in a dress."

This line, as Jersey fresh as anything Snooki could come up with, inspires Christie.

He gets in the guy's face.

A Jersey viewer can't help but hope that the Garden State is about to smack down the Golden State.

"Hey, listen," Christie says. "You know what? You want to yell, yell at me. But don't give her a hard time."

This is getting good. (And they say chivalry is dead.)

"Let me tell you this, you know what?" Christie says, voice rising, finger jabbing.

In his dark suit, the governor looks larger than life.

The heckler looks smaller and smaller.

"It's people who raise their voices and yell and scream like you who are dividing this country," the governor says. "We're here to bring this country together, not divide it."

Big applause. People swarm Christie. A near-rumble turns into a group hug.

Transforming the image of New Jersey, indeed.


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com.

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