Zip It, Chris: The Outspoken Jersey Governor Should Learn to Bite His Tongue

Governor Chris Christie has gotten a lot right during his stormy first term as governor of New Jersey. He’s taken on public employee unions and gotten pension and benefits concessions that would have seemed impossible two years ago. He’s correctly identified the teachers’ union as a reactionary obstacle to genuine school reform.

There are times, however, when his outspoken, Jersey guy routine doesn’t serve him well. Like, for example, when he recently referred to the mayor of New York City as a “dictator” and—even worse, if you’re familiar with Yiddish—a “putz.” (The governor should consult a Yiddish-English dictionary before he channels his inner Jackie Mason.) Bear in mind that Mr. Christie considers Mike Bloomberg a friend. Imagine what he calls his enemies.

Mr. Christie was put out because Mayor Bloomberg didn’t invite former New Jersey Governor Donald DiFrancesco to the ceremonies that will mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Mr. DiFrancesco was the state’s acting governor on that terrible day in 2001, having succeeded Christine Todd Whitman after she resigned to head up the E.P.A. under George W. Bush.

Mr. Christie was quick to spot an offense, and even quicker to mouth off in public. He even made a veiled reference to the mayor’s vertical challenges, referring to him as a “Napoleon.” Mr. Christie would be well-advised to lay off the size references as well.

Mr. Bloomberg has been the bigger man, so to speak, in this mini-tempest. Baited by the press, the mayor has stayed above the fray. “As you know, we’ve tried to keep the focus away from politics and politicians and on families, where it belongs,” he explained. Well said.

In the end, Mr. Bloomberg’s office did extend an invitation to Mr. DiFrancesco, who is, truth be told, not much more than a footnote in recent New Jersey politics. Unlike Richard Codey, who became acting governor when James McGreevey resigned in 2003, Mr. DiFrancesco has disappeared from public life in the Garden State. It’s entirely possible that Mr. Bloomberg’s staff simply forgot about him, as most New Jerseyans have.

In any case, if Mr. Christie felt aggrieved on behalf of the state of New Jersey, he could have picked up a telephone and dialed Mr. Bloomberg’s number. He could have made his case privately and cordially, and the result would have been the same. Mr. DiFrancesco would have been invited.

Instead, Mr. Christie decided to create a media event out of a small oversight. Worse, he chose to grandstand about an issue related to 9/11.

That’s not the right issue, and this is not the right time, to play to the hometown crowd. Mr. Christie has some surprisingly good political instincts. But he has to learn that sometimes soft words spoken on a telephone can accomplish a lot more than a self-righteous press conference.