Feature: Is NJ Governor Chris Christie A Mad Man?
It was the first gig that made good use of Christie’s disposition; he became a sort of crusading, devil-may-care dickhead, busting into crooked politicos’ homes at crazy hours, dragging them, stunned, in handcuffs, to interrogations. In the course of winning 130 cases, Christie so thoroughly punched his tough-guy ticket that he now finds himself the star of a documentary called The Soprano State. And in the grand tradition of Soprano State politicians, Christie also used his U.S. Attorney post to give large, no-bid contracts to his friends and allies — to his former boss, John Ashcroft, and also to a former federal prosecutor named David Kelley, who happened to be the same prosecutor who declined to press charges against Christie’s wealthy brother, Todd, in a stock-fraud case. (Christie also spent lavishly on luxury hotels and travel while he was U.S. Attorney, according to a report released in November by the Justice Department’s inspector general. On one trip to London, Christie charged the taxpayers $562 for a round-trip car ride from the airport to his hotel. “We always went for government rates first,” Christie explained to The Associated Press.)
As for the help Christie received from his brother: In 2000, Todd Christie’s trading firm had been bought by Goldman Sachs, netting him about $60 million. During the last decade, Todd pumped more than $360,000 into Republican organizations around the state. “His brother certainly had the resources to channel money to a lot of different places,” says Merkt, who ran against Christie in the 2009 Republican primary, along with Steve Lonegan, the arch-conservative former mayor of the borough of Bogota. “It was his huge advantage.” Christie won the primary by 13 percentage points over Lonegan and 52 points over Merkt.
Christie didn’t speak to me for this story, despite requests, but his friends say Lonegan and Merkt have never gotten over getting crushed by him. “They lost,” says one Jersey Republican. “It’s sour grapes.”
THE SINGLE MOST SALIENT FACT of New Jersey politics is the state’s high property taxes. In New Jersey, property taxes represent 98 percent of all revenue collected locally. (The national average is 73 percent.) This is a weird structure. Property taxes are regressive, meaning the poorer someone is, the larger the percentage of his income they eat up. And when you factor in the state’s notoriously high cost of living and sharply plummeting median incomes, you get “The Jersey Squeeze” and a populace forever perched on the edge of tax revolt — 3.9 million filers, wedgie’d and wet-willied by the state, screaming for relief.
After Democrat Jim Florio raised taxes by $2.8 billion in 1990 to fill a budget gap and the state’s lawns filled with IMPEACH FLORIO signs, no governor ever dared submit an honest budget. Instead, a generation’s worth of hacks and buffoons, Democrat and Republican alike, skipped payments to the state’s pension system, cut taxes without cutting spending, borrowed billions to jack up the insolvent, $11-billion-in-debt Transportation Trust Fund (which pays for repairs to bridges and roads, and which one bond-market analyst recently called “a Ponzi scheme”), and collectively left Jersey with $34 billion in long-term debt. The last of these pre-Christie governors was gray-bearded Democrat Jon Corzine, a technocrat who came off like a rambling putz.