WEST NEW YORK – At the broiling center of Hudson County politics, Gov. Chris Christie found a polished gym Memorial High School floor and a bleacher full of school kids in black shirts, khaki pants and sneakers to announce an allocation of $675 million to urban projects overseen by the Schools Development Authority (SDA).
“It is not driven at all by politics, which is what we saw in the selection of state vendors (in the past),” Christie said of the SDA. “It should be based on the needs of the children and the demands of that school district.”
The governor’s remarks prefaced a grunted hail of laughter a little more than a week after West New York Mayor Felix Roque endorsed Christie’s GOP pal, Joe Kyrillos, over local hero, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in the U.S. Senate contest.
Roque delivered a shining assessment of Christie.
“A visionary,” the mayor pronounced. “A champion and friend. Another testament to our commitment to public education. He cares passionately about strengthening schools in urban areas.”
A hodge-podge of local, dog-eared operatives in street clothes observed from the edges of the Tiger’s Den, the basement gym at the bustling, over-populated high school.
“We’re bursting at the seams here,” said the mayor, after the governor promised state dollars (an unspecified amount at present but somewhere south of $60 million) to relieve overcrowding.
The grumbled consensus was this was Christie’s opportunistic way of coming in with the tongs and towels to pull Roque out of the hot water the mayor’s endorsement of Kyrillos put him in with the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO).
“I don’t think we got much government aid anyway,” said a West New York source. “Remember, Stack gets all the goodies up here. He basically runs his budget on state aid.”
But if ever there was federal money to be had, Roque would be last in line given his recalcitrant rejection of Menendez.
Christie’s appearance today demonstrated the governor’s attentiveness to Roque in the aftermath of county Democratic Party blowback, according to local sources.
The governor insisted no.
“It’s an alternative delivery method, this was a good place to come,” said the governor. “The governor’s office has played no role.”
Christie took the time, in fact, to say the way the newly revamped schools authority funds projects differs profoundly from the era of the McGreevey and Codey administrations, in his words, when powerful players “would come in at the end to put their thumb on the scale” about which projects get funded.
He riffed on his burgeoning relationship with Roque.
“My relationship is based on the fact that he’s a Democrat who’s willing to talk to me,” said Christie. “He’s a mayor, like Dawn Zimmer, who says ‘this guy’s the governor, we want to have a productive working relationship with him. These relationships are not about anything else. What’s behind it is I’m trying to get things done. It’s either hold your breath and wait for the state to become Republican or work with fair-minded Democrats. I’m not excluding others, like Reed Gusciora, who is sometimes a numbnuts.”
Roque was delighted.
“I’m very honored to be able to have the governor here,” he told the school children. “Education is the key to success. We have to do our best to compete in the global arena.”
Former GOP Redistricting Commissioner Irene Kim Asbury was in the crowd. She works for Roque. Legal team.
A grinning Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer in the house begged the next question.
“Are you endorsing Joe Kyrillos for U.S. Senate?”
Zimmer shook her head emphatically.
“Put this down,” she said. “I’m backing Bob Menendez for U.S. Senate.”
Another Christie ally, state Sen. Brian P. Stack (D-33), was not in attendance. He was sick, said his chief of staff, Mark Albiez.
“If he needs an injection, let me know. That’s my specialty,” said Roque, a medical doctor.
The governor presented the list of school districts due for state funding under the provisions of the “2012 Project Portfolio.”
“The 2012 Project Portfolio recognizes those school facilities projects that suffer the most from facility deficiencies. Not every facility need in the state can be addressed with the limited funds at our disposal. Over the past year, the SDA has established a cost effective approach to constructing SDA school facilities projects. In doing so, we are able to provide more facilities for more students utilizing our limited resources,” said CEO Marc Larkins.
“In addition to the 2012 Portfolio, SDA is committed to advancing and completing the 2011 projects in a timely manner. All 10 projects on the 2011 Plan are scheduled to advance as was planned – 2 have already entered into construction procurement, 7 will advance into construction procurement and predevelopment activities in 2012 and the final project is being addressed through alternative delivery.”
The 20 projects set to advance in 2012 were divided into three categories addressing: 1) high educational priority needs 2) high educational priority needs that require further discussions with the District and 3) serious facility deficiencies, according to the governor’s office.
The 2012 Project Portfolio
Projects addressing high educational priority needs, representing a state investment of almost $675 million:
Gloucester City – Gloucester City Middle School
- Keansburg – Caruso Elementary School
- New Brunswick – Paul Robeson Community Elementary School
- Newark – Elliot Street Elementary School
- Newark – South Street Elementary School
- Passaic – Dayton Avenue Elementary School Campus
- Phillipsburg – Phillipsburg High School
- West New York – Memorial High School
Projects addressing high educational priority needs that require further discussions with the District:
Elizabeth – Elementary School grade level
- Garfield – Elementary School grade level
- Harrison – Middle School grade level
- Millville – High School grade level
- Paterson – Elementary School grade level
- Perth Amboy – All grade levels
- Union City – Elementary School grade level
Projects that address serious facility deficiencies:
Camden – Camden High School
- Hoboken – Thomas G. Connors Elementary School
- Orange – Cleveland Elementary School
- Orange – Orange High School
- Trenton – Trenton Central High School