IRVINGTON – Gov. Chris Christie today took his State of the State tour on the road to the town of Jerry Lewis’s childhood, generating a churchful of “amens” when he talked about education reform in an African-American house of worship.
“It’s time to cut income taxes ten percent,” said the governor, to modest applause in the Christian Love Baptist Church, reiterating the pull quote from Tuesday’s dome address.
But the Republican struck his main power chords when he talked about education.
“I know in my heart that if I had been left to the schools in Newark, there’s a very good chance I wouldn’t be standing here right now,” said the Newark native.
Teacher tenure was a big theme.
“For the ones who are underperforming, they do not belong in a classroom in front of our children,” said Christie to applause.
He wants more charter schools.
“And we should have the Opportunity Scholarship Act,” he repeated from Tuesday’s speech, underscoring his commitment to the vouchers school pilot program.
The last time a sitting governor was here was 2009, an election year. Sunk in the polls as he staggered toward Election Day, then-Gov. Jon Corzine appeared at Christian Love, soaked up the soulful Gospel hymns portending victory, went into his wallet when an animated Rev. Pastor Ron Christian sent a basket in his direction, and lost to Christie a few days later.
Christie said he came to Irvington today because politically it represents the farthest point from his GOP base.
“What percentage of the vote did I get in Irvington?” he asked staff as they planned this event.
“I bet there are more people in this church today than people who voted for me in 2009,” the governor said to hilarity. “I got 459 votes in Irvington. I came here because it strikes me that if I want to break down the partisan divide in this state, I’ve got to come here and talk to you.”
“You won the Republican Primary (in Irvington),” cracked Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith, who appeared delighted throughout by Christie.
The church was packed: people crammed in the basement, overflow.
“I’m a Mets fan, so if you want me to call on you, you better take that Yankees cap off,” Christie warned a man with his hand raised.
The cap disappeared.
A banner hung on the altar behind the governor and his allies. On it was printed the slogan, “The Jersey Comeback has Begun.”
Christie pulled Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) out of the crowd.
“What you see is what you get,” the governor said of Oliver, likening her to himself and contrasting his and her relatiosnhip with politicians in Washington, D.C.
“They need to bring people together,” he said of Beltway pols.
The audience was positive and responsive to the governor, who appeared in his comfort zone as he prowled the altar, microphone in his hand.
During q and a, Christie recounted a story about trying to teach fractions to his son, Patrick.
After I put him to bed I thought to myself, ‘What does the parent do who doesn’t have two hours?’” said the governor. “That’s why I’m an advocate for a longer school day and a longer school year. Let children stay until school until 6 o’clock. Let school last until the end of July.”
Christie called his conditional veto of an adoption bill the toughest decision he had to make during his two years in office.
The governor last year axed a bill that would allow adoptees to discover the identities of their birth parents – and he stood by it over the objections of a bill backer in the crowd.
“If the legislature passes a bill looks close to my conditional veto, I will sign it,” said Christie, whose sister, an adoptee, helped him make his decision on the issue, the governor said.
More push back ensued when Christie tried to defend his decision not to support a minimum wage hike an initiative backed by Oliver.
“No,” came a short burst chorus during his explanation.
Heading off another groan, Christie said he was confident he would not have to cut higher education this year.
A critic of the governor’s who has long implored Christie to do an urban town hall event, state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-28), Newark, was not present today. His brother, a Marine Corps veteran who resided in Germany, died of a heart attack this week.
Rice’s key ally on the Essex Freeholder Board, Rufus Johnson, attended.
Political mastermind Carl Sharif entered the church, made the rounds of hands, and sat near the front of the church. His son Darrin serves as the Newark Central Ward Councilman.
Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo was also here – a proud altar presence. He’s a longtime ally of the Rev. Christian’s – and of Christie’s. Others present included the Rev. Pastor Reginald Jackson of St. Matthew’s AME Church in Orange, and Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura.
“The comeback city,” Smith said of his hometown. “This is an opporuntity for the community to engage the governor on the isues of the day.”