Christie apology sought for remark on race, gender

Gov. Christie at a church in Paterson where he referred to Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver as the "African American female speaker."
Gov. Christie at a church in Paterson where he referred to Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver as the "African American female speaker." (TYSON TRISH / Bergen Record)
Posted: March 16, 2013

TRENTON - Gov. Christie has been asked to apologize for referring to the first black female leader of the Assembly by race and gender, and not by name, during a church-hosted meeting.

Christie, who is white, told an audience Tuesday that an "African American female speaker of the Assembly" is blocking a vote on a school voucher bill that would let children in failing districts attend classes elsewhere.

Democratic Speaker Sheila Oliver later said she was "appalled" that the Republican governor injected race into a discussion on education. Oliver, who represents a district with some failing schools, has said she believes the state should make a larger investment in public education.

On Thursday, the pastor whose church hosted the meeting asked Christie to apologize. He said the governor was disrespectful to the speaker and missed a chance to unite the community.

"I was and am saddened by the governor's blatant attack" on the speaker, said Kenneth Clayton, pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church in Paterson. "The words that the governor chose to use in speaking of Oliver, while not even respecting her enough to call her by name, defy his earlier assertion that political leaders, himself included, need to learn to respect all views and work together."

A Christie spokesman said the governor's comments were misinterpreted.

Christie has been courting the black and Latino vote for his reelection bid in November. And a crucial part of Christie's narrative for 2016, should he decide to seek the Republican nomination for president, will be his willingness to reach across party lines to get things done - as in his embrace of President Obama six days before the presidential election after a tour of the state's Sandy-ravaged coastline, for which he was denounced by some members of his own party.

Political science professor Peter Woolley of Fairleigh Dickinson University said Christie's success at making inroads among black and Latino voters will be gauged by analysts sizing up his presidential prospects.

On Thursday, his spokesman, Michael Drewniak, noted that the head of the Black Ministers Council, Bishop Reginald Jackson, said in 2010 that the fate of the stalled voucher bill was in the hands of the Legislature's Democratic majority, especially Oliver.

Jackson, an advocate of the bill, known as the Opportunity Scholarship Act, said then, "The Democratic Party must stop taking us for granted and failing to act for our children."

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