Gov. Chris Christie weighed in for the first time on the new chairman of the state Republican Party, and his assessment on Tuesday was less than flattering.
Christie took questions from reporters after a transportation event in Pennington and was asked whether he was happy with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s choice of lawyer Michael Lavery for the chairmanship of the Republican State Committee. As the Republican nominee for governor this year, Guadagno gets to pick the party chairman.
“I don’t know Michael Lavery, so I couldn’t tell you,” Christie said. He moved on to another question.
Christie knew enough about Lavery, a Hackettstown lawyer, to nominate him to the board of commissioners of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission in 2015. And the governor certainly knows Lavery’s uncle, Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore.
Guadagno tapped Lavery at the last minute to take over as GOP chair. Her initial choice, Warren County GOP Chairman Doug Steinhardt, withdrew from consideration last Tuesday before a meeting of the Republican State Committee because his wife, Trudy Steinhardt, had been nominated earlier in the day to a six-figure job at the state Parole Board, he said. And the committee elected Lavery shortly afterward to replace Sam Raia, Christie’s chairman since 2011.
Guadagno told reporters after the vote that Christie’s announcement that he was nominating Trudy Steinhardt to the Parole Board caught her by surprise and that she didn’t want to deal with an “optics issue” when it came to the GOP chairmanship.
Christie wondered aloud why the lieutenant governor had been surprised.
“Mr. and Mrs. Steinhardt were informed on the Friday before the nomination that we would be nominating her the next week to the Parole Board,” he said Tuesday. “Mrs. Steinhardt had been pursuing that appointment for a number of months and working with counsel’s office to put forward her credentials. … Why the lieutenant governor didn’t communicate with her nominee for state party chairman, you’d have to ask the lieutenant governor.”
Guadagno spokesman Ricky Diaz said that Lavery is “already hard at work and will be a fantastic chairman of the state Republican Party.”
Christie and Guadagno work in the same office building in the same administration, but they are not always on the same page, especially since the governor’s approval ratings began to tank last year as Guadagno prepared to run for governor.
Christie also had some advice for Guadagno, who is in the process of selecting a running mate.
“Pick somebody that you like, pick someone that you believe can be governor in the case that they might need to be, and pick someone who you think might be an effective messenger for whatever the thrust of your campaign is,” he said. “I think those are the best criteria to use in picking a lieutenant governor, and that’s what I used in picking her twice, and I hope she has the same level of success with her choice that I had with mine.”