PATERSON – The “I really do care about cities” tour continued today for Gov. Chris Christie, who landed in the hard-boiled Paterson following a Big Apple Tuesday evening of large-dollar donors pleading with him to run for president.
After slashing funding for urban centers last month, and on the same week Christie dredged up what he said was surprise federal dollars for a center for abused children in Newark in a partnership with political ally Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, the governor bore up under the flashbulbs with “Waiting for Superman” star Geoffrey Canada as he promoted charter schools in Paterson.
Christie landed here in the middle of the usual local infighting, projecting lovable relations with Mayor Jeffrey Jones, a Democrat whose public molding mostly formed in opposition to local power brokers.
“I don’t think I have to have a meeting with the mayor to have him know I’ve been here with Paterson,” Christie said. “We have given Paterson transitional aid. The mayor has taken significant steps. We have spoken; even more importantly, our staffs have spoken. The only aid I didn’t red line out was aid I already committed to Mayor Jones and Paterson because Paterson had committed to reforms already. I haven’t abandoned Paterson in any way. We will continue to work with the mayor to best manage the money.”
The New York to Paterson two-day whirlwind did not impress the mayor, who said of the governor, “We met once on the way to the john,” but also projected no evident discomfort around the Republican governor and offered faint praise of the performance of the Christie administration.
A regular press conference pit stop for U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8), the N.J. Community Development Corporation in the downtown historic district bore none of the traces of those partisan Democrats today as Christie chatted with children and took scattershot questions from the press.
The governor discussed no price tag on Canada, who told reporters they would be surprised when they discovered how minimal would be New Jersey’s tab for his input.
Christie repeatedly praised Jones, who sat in the front row on the third floor of the community development center.
“We’ve selected Paterson because all of the elements you need for success are here,” said Christie. “You have a nonprofit here that has shown to be successful. We’re not just throwing money at it but making it better. I don’t need plans now to say we’re going to launch this someplace else. I don’t know where I would expand it. I’m committed to Paterson right now. I’m focused on making Paterson successful.”
For his part, Jones said he hasn’t spent any significant time with Christie since the mayor upset the Democratic establishment here over a year ago. He acknowledged – as the governor had pointed out in his remarks – that the Christie administration has been responsive to the Silk City, or at least – in Jones’s words, “They have not closed the door.”
“I have to be,” said the mayor, when asked if he is hopeful that the details of the partnership with Canada would be fruitful.
“So far I have no details (about the partnership),” he said.
A group called the Paterson Education Organization Committee (PEOC) appeared on the street outside the event amid a flurry of waving scornful signs.
“Return local control to Paterson,” read the release. “Fully fund SFRA, so our students can have the resources they need to succeed …We do NOT want the state to direct the funding away from public schools, not even to Charter schools. Because Charter schools are not accountable.”
“Somebody’s always complaining about something,” said Christie. “Mark Zuckerberg came to Newark and gave Newark $100 million and people were outside complaining.”
Patersonians in the room off the record amplified the mayor’s point about lack of detail in the Christie/Canada tag team.
“This is a guy who loves to get New Yorkers in here to act like they’re solving New Jersey’s problems,” groaned one source, indicating the governor, and fuming at the state’s chief executive bringing in a rock star like Canada while local Schools Superintendent Dr. Donnie W. Evans sat at close range with no public committment of support for reappointment.
Another Democrat speaking on condition of anonymity said the governor was trying to soften his own image while opportunistically wet-kissing Jones, a scene that establishment party members here said was laughable, given the mayor’s longstanding standoff with the Community Development Corp., which favors Pascrell’s vision for the local histroic district over the mayor’s.
“I don’t know about your transitional aid,” Christie told City Councilman Andre Sayegh, “but i like your tie.”
It was a Mets tie.