MONTCLAIR, NJ - The author of “American Governor – Chris Christie’s Bridge to Redemption” and Peabody award winner, Matt Katz, spoke on Wednesday night as dozens of guests packed into the United Way Building in Montclair. The event was co-hosted by BlueWaveNJ and Watchung Booksellers.
The large crowd welcomed journalists Matt Katz of NPR’s WNYC, as well as Tom Moran of The Star-Ledger, for a discussion and signing of the newly released biography on Chris Christie.
Katz told TAP into Montclair, “It’s wonderful to have so many people come out to hear about Chris Christie. He’s not even a presidential candidate anymore but there is tremendous interest, even among those who dislike him.”
In the audience were Millie Silva, Barbara Buono’s running mate back in 2013, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, and our own Deputy Mayor Bob Russo, among other notable figures.
A few years ago Katz, who had been previously in Afghanistan writing about reconstruction efforts, was approached by his editor. Katz was asked to go to Trenton to cover the (then) new governor Christie. Initially this did not seem like the best idea. However Katz was attracted to the prominence of it, and to the notion that he would be able to follow the governor around the state and blog about him. He started the Christie Chronicles Blog and now writes the Christie Tracker for WNYC.
Katz quickly noticed that despite the press reporting police department layoffs or how the New Jersey economy was lagging, the governor didn’t act on any of it. Despite his inaction he was still gaining popularity.
Katz soon noted that Chris Christie had quite a crew aiding his popularity, from staging town hall meetings to orchestrating which reporters were in receipt of information, and who was advised that he was coming to each town. According to Katz, the setup was such that soon Christie had effectively created his own news organization, which then influenced New Jersey voters.
Katz recalled when Hurricane Sandy hit, how Christie was asked if he was inviting presidential candidate Mitt Romney to NJ to tour damage. Christie became somewhat famous for his reply, “If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics then you don’t know me.” Soon thereafter Christie’s ratings also improved as a result.
At that point, Katz had been offered a book deal to write the biography of Christie who was considered a rising star, but was also asked to write about a mysterious traffic jam.
“I interviewed Christie and asked if he had anything to do with the lane closures,” said Katz, almost chuckling. He said Christie snarled, ‘yeah Matt, I was out there moving the cones – you cannot be serious with this question.”
Katz soon realized he would be writing about “the rise and fall and attempted comeback of a political star.”
The discussion continued about whether Christie would run for president again, and about possible contenders for the next New Jersey governor.
Bob Russo, Montclair Deputy Mayor, asked the question, “This man (Christie) demonized teachers and made us a major target of his hostility, what do you think of that?” Katz replied, “It’s what helped make him a national conservative hero...It was 2010, there was a tea party wave, and it was highly effective.”
Moran interjected, to a crowd in clear disagreement of his stance, “I think the teacher’s union is not a progressive force in NJ. They blew it during the first budget crisis when they refused the pay freezes. It did seem greedy. They resisted reasonable tenure reform and tried to block charter schools because they are non union.”
Moran listed some choices Christie made during the first term, versus his second term as governor of New Jersey and when asked by an audience member what Christie’s constituency might look like going forward, he said he thought one of two things might happen: either Christie would try to fix New Jersey (he cited pension benefits and transportation as a major concerns), or he would burnish his credentials with the hard right.
Katz was asked if he had a wish list for the next New Jersey governor. Katz replied, “I would like it if the next governor was transparent”. Moran added that it should be someone who focuses on economic injustice and disparity of wealth.