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The Christie Visit: Scenes From a 4th Ward Church

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PATERSON, NJ – For more than two years, Patersonians have been clamoring for Gov. Chris Christie to hold one of his town-hall style meetings in New Jersey’s third most populous city. They complained that the Republican governor seemed to favor holding the sessions in suburban towns. Some even suggested that Christie was avoiding Paterson because he knew he would get a hostile reception.

Well, for the most part, there was nothing hostile about the way Paterson treated the governor. His 100-minute event at St. Luke’s Baptist Church turned out to be rather sedate. Protests promised by some city groups never materialized. The give-and-take between the governor and the audience of more than 500 people was rather cordial.

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Christie himself said the meeting had been “sleepy” until one heckler persisted in calling out for the governor to “fix the public schools.’’ Christie pretty much thanked the man – Mike Henry – for livening things up.

One heckler? That’s nothing compared to what happens at some city council meetings.

Mayor Tells City Council to Hit the Road

When news spread that Christie would be coming to Paterson, members of the City Council decided it would be a good idea to take a municipal van from City Hall to the event at St. Luke’s Baptist Church on Carroll Street.

“We wanted to show a united front and come in together,’’ said Council President Anthony Davis. “Plus it would minimize the parking situation.’’

But Mayor Jeffrey Jones told the council the city couldn’t spare one of its vans. “Eleven o’clock is in the middle of our workday,’’ he said. “We’re short-staffed no matter how you look at it. I couldn’t do it.’’

“Besides, St. Luke is just down the street,’’ Jones added. “It isn’t that far.’’

Davis said he “was extremely disappointed” by the mayor’s decision.

But the council president did not give up on his idea of having the council members arrive at the event together. He contacted a friend who runs a private jitney service in the city, the council president said. The friend was willing to provide a van for the council member’s trip. The van was free, Davis said, adding that he tipped the driver.

No Vouchers For Paterson

Christie used his Paterson meeting as an opportunity to criticize Assembly Speaker Shelia Oliver of Essex County for blocking a bill that would provide parents whose children attend failing urban schools with vouchers they could use for private education.

The bill, he said, would give kids in cities like Paterson a chance to get the type of education they need to succeed. “This isn’t about saving money,’’ Christie said. “This is about expanding opportunity.’’

Christie asserted that urban political leaders and teachers union representatives were standing in the way of an initiative designed to help inner city kids. He made note that “a Republican governor from the suburbs” was championing their cause.

What the governor didn’t say is that Paterson is not among the seven cities that would be included in the four-year pilot program under the proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act. They are Asbury Park, Camden, Elizabeth, Lakewood, Newark, Passaic and Trenton.

The Ghost of Paterson’s Mayor of the Past

In response to one Patersonian’s question regarding local government corruption, Christie dusted off some of his old credentials.

He reminded the overflow crowd at St. Luke’s Baptist Church that prior to becoming governor he had been United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey in Newark.

“We’re going to be aggressive about corruption wherever we find it,’’ Christie told the crowd, drawing applause. “We won’t tolerate it from anybody.’’

More people applauded when Christie asserted that he helped convict about 130 government officials in New Jersey while he was U.S. Attorney.

Then Christie provided one more fact. The first of those convicted officials, he pointed out, was Paterson’s own former mayor, Martin Barnes. But this time, only a handful of people among the crowd of 500 clapped for the governor.

Christie ran into a Paterson fact-of-life. Barnes, who died several months ago, remains popular in this city despite Christie’s success in convicting him.

A Few More Words on the Heckler

In his opening remarks, Christie made it clear that he was accustomed to folks trying to make a name for themselves by taking on the governor at Town Hall meetings, which are widely covered by the media.

And that’s exactly what happened for Henry, the Paterson heckler whose name appeared in news accounts all over the state.

Most media reports described Henry as a minister. That’s what one side of his business card says. It describes him as a deacon of the Everlasting Life Ministry.

But the other side of his business card provided some additional information about Henry’s vocation. It said he also has a catering business and a travel service.

 

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