Christie strikes bipartisanship theme, avoids mention of scandal

Gov. Christie shakes hands as he leaves a service at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., before his swearing-in. Story, B1.
Gov. Christie shakes hands as he leaves a service at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., before his swearing-in. Story, B1. (AP)
Posted: January 23, 2014

TRENTON - Praising a New Jersey that "put aside political partisanship" while battling economic recession and weathering Hurricane Sandy, Gov. Christie delivered an inaugural address Tuesday that emphasized compromise and resilience, with no mention of the scandal that has been a cloud over his administration in recent weeks.

"We started this journey together in a dark and foreboding time in our history, when hope was at a premium and trust had been squandered by a government who had been unwilling to tell you the truth," Christie said after he was formally sworn in for a second term at the War Memorial in Trenton.

"Today, we enter the final leg of our journey together with more hope than we have had in years," he said, describing "the dawn of a new age of pride and growth in our state and its people."

The Republican governor, joined on stage by his wife, Mary Pat, and their four children, made his remarks while his administration faces investigations into allegations of wrongdoing.

State lawmakers are pursuing a probe of allegations that Christie aides ordered gridlock at the George Washington Bridge in September in apparent political payback to the mayor of nearby Fort Lee. Federal prosecutors also are reviewing the matter. Last weekend, the mayor of Hoboken added to the administration's woes, alleging that top Christie officials had pressured her to approve a redevelopment deal or risk losing Sandy recovery money.

Christie aides fought back against Mayor Dawn Zimmer's charges this week. But the governor himself was not fiery Tuesday. In his address, Christie pointed to the unity he said was achieved during his first term, calling his 22-point reelection victory in November "the largest and loudest voice of affirmation" from voters in three decades.

"New Jersey really can be one state," Christie said. To accomplish the goals of citizens, he said, "we have to be willing to play outside the red and blue boxes the media pundits put us in; we have to be willing to reach out to others who look or speak differently than us; we have to be willing to personally reach out a helping hand to a neighbor suffering from drug addiction, depression, or the dignity-stripping loss of a job."

As in his State of the State address last week, Christie devoted time to education and drug addiction.

Saying that "every one of God's creations has value," Christie said the state would "end the failed war on drugs," calling for treatment rather than incarceration of nonviolent offenders.

He touted the recent passage of the New Jersey Dream Act, which allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates. Christie rejected an earlier version that included financial aid, and Democrats agreed to amend it.

While the governor made no specific reference to a tax cut, he advocated putting "more money in the pockets of our middle class by not taking it out of their pockets in the first place."

Before Christie gave his remarks - which lasted about 18 minutes - he took the oath of office. A series of cannons fired outside the War Memorial, where snow was falling fast. Christie's team announced that an inaugural gala planned for Tuesday night at Ellis Island, expected to draw more than 1,000 people, was canceled due to the storm.

Shortly before the ceremony, Democrats in the Assembly and Senate announced they would merge their investigations into the George Washington Bridge scandal, forming a joint committee. Last week, Assembly lawmakers issued 20 subpoenas in the investigation, including some to top Christie staffers.

After announcing the new effort, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) participated in Christie's inaugural, offering the governor his "heartfelt congratulations" on the second term.

Sweeney later issued a statement criticizing Christie's address as "long on rhetoric but short on solutions." He called for the passage of tax relief programs and "asking millionaires to pay their fair share." Former Republican Gov. Thomas H. Kean Sr., a political mentor of Christie's who attended the swearing-in, said he appreciated the governor's focus on education during the speech.

Of the controversy that has engulfed Christie's administration, "I think he's handled things as well as he could," Kean said. He cited a "bit of a piling-on" by Democrats and national media since the disclosures that prompted Christie on Jan. 9 to announce the firing of a top aide and dismissal of a close political adviser implicated in the bridge scandal.

Christie has denied knowing anything about a plot to create gridlock, and "my suspicion is he told the truth," Kean said. "If that's true, I think it will turn out just fine, as far as he's concerned."

Kean - who said he was disappointed in a reported attempt by Christie to oust his son, State Sen. Thomas H. Kean Jr., as leader of the Senate Republicans after the election - said Tuesday he had not recently spoken to Christie.

Asked whether he would support Christie in a bid for president, Kean said: "I don't know yet. I haven't decided who I'm going to support yet. But he certainly should be in the field, because he's got probably more ability than anyone in the field."

A Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday found Christie trailing former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democrat, 46 percent to 38 percent in a 2016 matchup. In December, the poll found Christie ahead of Clinton, 42 percent to 41 percent.

Before going to Trenton for the swearing-in ceremony, Christie attended a prayer service at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark that offered an upbeat start to a day threatened by snow and the bridge scandal.

At the prayer service, the church choir's rousing harmonies set a lively, joyous tone for Christie's inauguration day.

The choir - with which Whitney Houston once sang - danced, clapped, and brought the crowd to its feet for much of the early morning service.

"We don't have cute worship service here," Pastor Joseph A. Carter said. "We don't believe you have good church unless you have beads of water running down your forehead."

At that, the choir launched into "Holy, Holy, Holy" and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno leaped to her feet as the rest of the congregants followed. Christie stood, clapping along and nodding to the beat.

"We pray for Chris Christie, our 55th governor of the State of New Jersey, as he begins this second term," said the Rev. Joe Anginoli of St. Joseph Church in Mendham. "May his face shine upon him. May he always feel his embrace. We pray for the great people of this state, for the members of the legislators, judges, elected civil officials, and all those who are entrusted to guard our political welfare."

The crowd included invited guests, selected members of the public, and students from North Star Academy and Robert Treat Academy in Newark. Essex County officials, including the county executive, Democrat Joseph DiVincenzo, were in attendance. The service was presided over by Carter, Anginoli, and Rabbi David Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El in Closter.

"Today's not about politics, it's about prayer. It's not about media, it's about a message, and we stand at the need of divine intervention every single day of our lives," Carter said at the altar, decorated with red and gold poinsettias.

Kirshner gave a prayer for leadership, invoking the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the teachings of Rabbi Abraham Heschel.

"Grant this administration the ability to see the miracles in new life restored after events like Hurricane Sandy or devastating boardwalk fires. Give them sustained compassion, wisdom to conceive programs and plans that will offer jobs to the unemployed, provide food to the hungry, and shelter the homeless."

Christie did not address the congregants but took a moment after the church had cleared to talk to the students who attended.

"Here's the truth," he said, "I was born in Newark. I lived in Newark until I was 5 years old and now I'm governor of New Jersey, twice. There's not one thing you can't do or be if you're willing to work hard enough and dream big enough."

The service ended as it began with Christie shaking hands and then filing out along with the crowd as the choir belted out "Alleluia."

609-989-8990 @maddiehanna

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