In Hamilton, Christie says he won’t be ‘pushover’ for public employee unions

HAMILTON — Governor-elect Christopher Christie continued his post-election education theme today, appearing in front of hundreds of students at Steinert High School in Hamilton Township this afternoon.

The suburban environment surrounding the school, which counts Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito as an alumn along with two legislators who attended the assembly – state Sen. Bill Baroni (R-Hamilton) and Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton) – provided a striking contrast to Christie's campaign stop on his first full day as Governor Elect, at the Robert Treat Academy in Newark.

After praising the school's academic record, Christie told the students that kids in New Jersey's cities deserve the same quality.

"Those people, because of where they're born and where they live, are not getting the same education," he said. "Those kids in Trenton, Camden, Newark, Jersey City, Asbury Park – those kids deserve the same kind of education you all get in Hamilton — at Steinert."

About half of the students gave Christie a standing ovation when he was introduced.

Most of the assembly was taken up by a question and answer session, with students asking Christie questions they wrote out on note cards.

One senior, who said she hoped to attend the College of New Jersey next year, asked what he would do about rising higher education costs. As he has said often on the campaign trail, Christie pledged to increase higher education aide over the next four years and offered the student some help gaining admission.

"Need a recommendation letter?" he joked.

Then he turned to Baroni, who was standing nearby.

"Bill, will you handle that for me? You'll get one from me and Baroni. We'll see how you do."

Both DeAngelo and Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) attended the event. The two held on to their seats by comfortable margins, although Christie won Hamilton – the district's biggest town.

Because their district abuts Trenton, DeAngelo and Greenstein represent more public workers than any other legislators. Both said they were troubled by Christie's tough campaign rhetoric about public workers, but were optimistic that he would tone it down in office.

"Hopefully people can talk and come to some resolution, but there's no question that the rhetoric during the campaign was pretty much anti-union," said Greenstein. "I have a feeling that when the reality sets in and everyone is working on the issues, things will move more towards compromise than an extreme position."

DeAngelo said that Christie's campaign talk of layoffs "may have been" overheated, but that "I don't believe that he's going to go out and outright slander the public sector."

And Christie's tone towards the largest state workers' union – Communications Workers of America – did seem more conciliatory when he was taking questions from the press in a classroom.

Christie said he would no longer be a "pushover" to the union, and that he would no longer be "bound by" Gov. Corzine's agreement to avoid layoffs until 2011. But, he said "I would hope to have no layoffs, but that will be a product of the negotiations that we're going to have to have." In Hamilton, Christie says he won’t be ‘pushover’ for public employee unions