Fresh off that failure, Christie’s bid for freeholder, against Laureys and her two Republican running mates (it was a primary), took on a certain desperate urgency. He spread fliers around town assailing the freeholders’ “sweetheart contracts” and “fat pay raises.” He also cut a TV attack ad, speaking straight into the camera and alleging that Laureys and friends were “being investigated” by the county prosecutor. The truth was innocuous: What the prosecutor was “investigating” was a policy matter involving the public availability of meeting minutes. Laureys and her running mates sued Christie, saying he had defamed them. But Christie won the race, and pretty soon, as a freshly minted freeholder, he was being sued for defamation again, this time by the well-reputed architect of a planned county jail. Christie had accused the sitting freeholders of overpaying for the architectural designs. (The case was eventually dropped.)
Christie did solid work as freeholder, helping to build a skating rink for kids and maintaining the county’s AAA bond rating, but all the same, his colleagues hated him. Nobody had ever seen anything like Chris Christie: a frustrated white knight in a peaceable kingdom, creating chaos so he could stay calm in the center of it. Within a year of taking office, he was already launching his next race, for state assembly, with a young, conservative running mate named Rick Merkt. He lost the assembly race, and then, in 1997, lost his reelection bid for freeholder — to Cissy Laureys, who, as part of a court settlement, had forced Christie to publicly apologize and admit that his 1994 ad was “not accurate,” and who now used Christie’s admission to blast him in campaign ads. For his part, Christie moped: “My mother taught me that if someone apologizes, you accept it and move on.” When he stood up in the Hanover Marriott to concede the race, the Republicans of Morris County turned their backs, speaking loudly over his speech. One man grabbed him by the arm and blew him kisses: “I’m kissing your [expletive] career goodbye,” he told Christie. On the day he cleaned out his office, he came as close to pouring his guts out as he ever would: “They said I was the Pillsbury Doughboy, arrogant, a liar, deceitful,” he told a reporter. “It got difficult at times to accept. But I know when I look in the mirror that I’m a good person.”
After getting run out of town, Christie basically gave up on elective politics. He chose another route forward, volunteering as a New Jersey campaign lawyer for George W. Bush. The Palatucci connection put Christie in the room with W. early in the game, and though he had no prosecutorial experience, it eventually landed him the job as U.S. Attorney.