Other cities across New Jersey have similar hardships, and some mayors and advocates for the poor say the administration has not paid enough attention - or enough money - to address the poverty-related issues of foreclosures, low-income housing, and welfare.
"Too long in New Jersey, politicians of both parties have ignored our cities," Christie said in a 2009 campaign video. "If I'm elected governor, we will make a focus of our administration the revitalization of our cities."
But Christie's budgetary priorities tell a different story. After-school programming for about 3,500 mostly poor New Jersey children was cut, taking with it five programs in Camden, nine in Newark, and one in Gloucester City, according to the nonprofit NJ After 3. Christie has slashed funding for legal aid for low-income residents and reduced the earned-income tax credit for the working poor.
And state-funded nonprofit groups that handle social services, foreclosure counseling, and urban redevelopment say dealing with the administration has grown harder.
"The governor, like most politicians, made a lot of promises, and we haven't seen much in the way of delivery," said Staci Berger, director of policy at the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.
To be sure, a national economy crippled by the recession and decades of urban malaise are the root of the state's urban troubles.
Christie inherited a situation that has bedeviled governors of both parties. But his spokesman said the governor had concentrated on urban issues.
"I think we can live with the criticism of not following through with the naming or branding of an urban agenda, but to suggest we haven't delivered and are not working in this area pretty intensely is flat wrong and in defiance of the facts," Michael Drewniak wrote in an e-mail.
When Christie addresses cities' problems, it is almost always in the context of education reform or tax incentives for economic development.
Drewniak cited Christie's signing of Democratic legislation to expand the state's Urban Transit Tax Hub, which provides incentives for developers to build in urban areas, and the release last week of the state strategic plan, which calls for major urban centers to be areas of growth.
As a candidate, Christie promised similar population and business growth, but his campaign documents offered more specific ideas.
So far, Drewniak said, the administration has brought tens of millions of dollars in public-private investment to Camden – the vast majority of which went to the expansion of the Campbell Soup headquarters. The company said it has received $23 million in public investment for the project.
On education, Christie is passionate about mentioning his Newark roots, and last week he said urban children stuck in failing schools were "enslaved."
His agenda is centered on the premise that urban children should be as well-educated as those in the suburbs, so he has expanded charter schools as an alternative educational option. In June, he visited Camden to propose a new education project, "transformation schools," which has yet to move in the Legislature.
Other Christie initiatives, such as statewide pension reform, have saved millions for the cities, Drewniak noted.
But in Jersey City, Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy said his city had a $70 million drop in funding from Gov. Jon S. Corzine's last budget to Christie's first.
"It seems like the burden of the cuts lands on the poor and the working poor, and, ultimately, on our urban areas," Healy said.
Part of the funding cut came from Christie's temporary freeze of the Urban Enterprise Zone program, Healy said, which provides business incentives and creates revenue for cities.
Healy understands that the state has its own issues - "We're all getting our asses kicked by the new great depression" - but he wants Trenton to understand that his city supplies tax revenue and creates jobs.
Healy praised the administration for continuing to help with tax credits that have brought job-creating companies, like Goya Foods, to the city. Yet state aid is important, too.
"Aid to our city is actually an investment," Healy said.
During the campaign, Christie echoed that sentiment, saying rejuvenated cities would help the entire state. When he visited a Camden church, the media reported that it was unusual for a Republican to make campaign stops in Democratic cities.
But the Christie camp couldn't beat liberal Corzine in blue New Jersey without attracting some Democrats and independents along the way. Footage from his visit was dropped into a campaign ad, as was footage from a stop at Tent City.
The former corruption-busting U.S. attorney was asked at the Camden church what he would do about the long-standing problems of accountability in urban government.
He told the crowd about the first item on his "bringing back cities" list: A new technology-based accountability system called CityTrak to monitor education, economic development, and crime.
"I thought it was a great answer," resident Sean Brown, who asked the question, said.
But "as far as I know, it doesn't exist," he said.
Brown, now a school board member, said he understood that the state was broke and that aid to Camden had to be cut. But he said there was a continued lack of accountability for money that goes to Camden.
The Governor's Office insists it has added oversight, with a mandate that local governments receiving aid get state approval before hiring personnel and meet with state officials four times a year to review budgets.
This is intended to "wean them off of aid from Trenton," Drewniak said.
So far in Camden, though, that hasn't happened. This year, Christie intends to fund a larger percentage of Camden's budget - 68 percent - than last year. Camden received $69 million in transitional aid designated for poor cities last year, and it is slated to get $61.4 million this year. The money is held up in the Democratic Legislature.
Most of Camden's money goes toward public safety, and most of Christie's campaign promises about cities dealt with public safety - from mandating drug treatment to training neighborhood watch groups to detect gang activity.
Only one - preventing the early release of violent criminals - appears to have been fulfilled. "Other things still need to be done, but we are less than midpoint in a first term," Drewniak said, indicating that other plans were on the horizon.
Christie's most public approach to crime in Camden was unsuccessfully shaming police unions into making concessions to avoid layoffs.
Instead, more than 160 police officers were laid off. Many were called back, but there are still about 100 fewer police officers than when Christie was campaigning in the city. The homicide rate is up about 30 percent, to 36 so far this year, and shootings, burglaries, and aggravated assaults are all up by double-digit percentages.
Other cities, such as Newark and Trenton, also reported increases in crime after laying off police.
Christie now supports Camden County's proposal to replace the city Police Department (and its union contracts) with a regional county police force, saying it would save money. Yet at a recent news conference, Christie said he didn't know what was in a $15,000 report that evaluated the feasibility of such a force. The report didn't identify cost savings.
Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd did not agree to be interviewed for this article, but she released a statement praising the state's help "in our efforts to improve our fiscal compliance."
Newark Mayor Cory Booker was also not available to be interviewed about how Christie has handled Newark.
The Democratic mayors need good relations with Trenton; they rely on the state's purse for survival.
"Too many mayors in this state will not speak the truth for fear of angering the governor," said Mayor J. Christian Bollwage of Elizabeth, the state's fourth-largest city. "That's sad in a democracy."
Bollwage, a Democratic mayor for 19 years, added: "Never before have urban communities been treated with such disdain. And more mayors need to speak the truth."
Contact staff writer Matt Katz at 609-217-8355, email@example.com, or @mattkatz00 on Twitter. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at philly.com/christiechronicles.
Candidate Chris Christie touted a list of proposals called “Bringing Back Our Cities.” Only one has been implemented. The others were:
Use technology through “CityTrak” to measure progress and enforce accountability in education, economic development and crime.
Exempt taxes for new urban residents to encourage new market-rate housing in cities.
Pass a constitutional amendment to bring state bail laws in line with stricter federal law and permit pretrail detention for public safety reasons.
Require drug rehabilitation and vocational training for nonviolent offenders.
Attack gang problem by increasing penalties for gang-related crimes and illegal gun possession; creating alternatives to gang membership with help from community and faith-based groups; train neighborhood groups to report gang activity.
Streamline incentives, tax breaks, loans and grants to cities through Garden State Growth Zones.