Governor-elect Phil Murphy must be wondering if he did something wrong, because the man he will replace when sworn in on Jan. 16 approves of his selection of a new attorney general. Murphy nominated Gurbir Grewal of Bergen County, a choice that almost immediately won high praise from outgoing Gov. Christopher Christie.
Christie will leave office with some of the lowest approval ratings of any governor since at least Jim Florio in the early 1990s. He is also known for appointing political hacks to key positions in his administration.
Still, Grewal is well-regarded around the state, so Christie likely felt compelled to say something good.
Christie is expected to return to the legal practice he abandoned to become the U.S. attorney for New Jersey under President George W. Bush. If he still has political aspirations, he hasn’t said so, though most people believe his career as an elected official – even possibly as a dog catcher – is over.
There was some speculation that he might become a radio show host for sports or politics, but those opportunities seem to have faded away.
In his waning days as governor, Christie appears to be building a legacy as a czar against opioid abuse, though he will likely be remembered best for a handful of symbolic moments – such as hugging President Barack Obama in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, sitting ensconced in a beach chair on a state-owned beach after he ordered public beaches closed to the general public, and – of course – the Bridgegate scandal.
Two of his closest associates were convicted of closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge in the fall of 2013, allegedly to punish the mayor of Fort Lee after he refused to endorse Christie’s reelection bid.
Christie’s political career has always been colored with controversy, from the days when he served as a freeholder in Morris County to later when he became one of the leading fundraisers for the campaign of Bush, after which Bush named him U.S. Attorney for the state.
Although Christie resigned as U.S. attorney to run for governor in 2009, many believe he orchestrated Bid Rig III, a corruption sting that successfully crippled Democratic campaigns in key areas of the state, allowing Christie to beat Gov. Jon Corzine.
While former President Theodore Roosevelt was well known for his “bully pulpit,” Christie will leave office remembered as being a bully from behind his pulpit, often verbally abusing his critics at press conferences. Unlike President Donald Trump, at least Christie did so with a perverse sense of humor.
Christie’s real legacy, however, may be in some of questionable decisions he made while in office, such as redirecting money from the state’s Special Improvement Districts to balance the state budget, loss of federal funding for schools – which he blamed on then State Commissioner Bret Schundler – fiscal mismanagement that led to nine Wall Street downgrades of the state’s bond rating, and the halting of the Arc Tunnel project. The Arc Tunnel debacle may well have the most lasting impact, since it helped delay the construction of sorely needed train tunnels to New York. State authorities later revisited this with the Gateway project, which is now underway with the construction of a new Hudson River tunnel project.
Had Christie not derailed Arc when he did, the project would be near to completion now, rather than just breaking ground.
Christie, of course, inherited a number of problems that go back decades, including mismanagement by previous governors that left the state’s public employee pension system tens of billions of dollars in the red.
Historians in the future will most likely view Christie’s administration in kinder terms that those who have lived through the last eight years.
Bayonne election emerging
Despite reports of defections, the campaign ticket for Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis’ reelection will likely be the same as it was in 2014.
Davis is being challenged by former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, who has announced two of his council picks already and will name a third shortly.
Rumors had predicted that some of Davis’ council members would not seek reelection. But insiders say that the ticket will return intact to face O’Donnell’s serious challenge.
Last month, O’Donnell announced that Daniel Ward, a Bayonne educator, would run on his ticket for one of two at-large seats. The current at-large City Council members are Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski and Juan Perez.
Kevin Kuhl, a city proprietor and co-manager of a local bar, will also run on O’Donnell’s council slate for the city’s 2nd Ward council seat. Kuhl will face off against Sal Gullace, the incumbent councilman in the city’s 2nd Ward, in a May 2018 municipal election.
O’Donnell’s third pick is Melissa Enriquez-Rada, president of the Bayonne Rotary Club and a local realtor.
Jersey City, more of the same
Those close to Mayor Steven Fulop believe he will delay seeking to become a member of the House of Representatives next year.
Reports suggested the Fulop would seek to unseat Rep. Albio Sires in June and make way for a special election for mayor, possibly as early as November 2019.
While a move to Washington DC may still be in the works, Fulop – some believe – will try to mend fences with U.S. Senator Robert Menendez first.
“This may take time,” one observer said. “And Fulop would be unwise to try to become a congressman until he makes up with Bob.”
Menendez, who was a strong supporter of Fulop’s successful 2013 run for mayor, apparently sees Fulop as someone who had his eye on Menendez’s senate seat while the senator was on trial for corruption charges. A federal judge declared a mistrial in the case and it is unclear whether the prosecution will try again.
After the mistrial, Menendez vowed that he would remember those who were eyeing his seat.
A few days later, Fulop endorsed Menendez’s reelection for U.S. Senate in 2018.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.