Atlantic City’s Passion for Chris Christie

Yes for Governor No

I thought I’d ask people willing to give their money away a question. Early on a Tuesday evening in a Borgata coffee shop, I start with a big bald guy, maybe 50, sipping from a Styrofoam cup, who doesn’t hesitate: “I think he’s a fucking idiot.” The question was straightforward enough: What do you think of Chris Christie?

The guy’s name is Terry. “He’s a typical freakin’ Republican who destroys unions,” Terry says. “That’s what they’re all out to do.”

[SIGNUP]I learn quickly that Terry’s an AFSCME guy, as in American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. He lives in Bensalem and comes to A.C. occasionally, spends the night. He always comes alone. “I never go anyplace with anybody,” Terry tells me. “Because I don’t want to. I do what I feel like.”

Right out of the shoot, Terry sets a standard on a couple of fronts. One is that Chris Christie has struck a nerve. The other is that you can never imagine what’s going on inside someone’s head until you ask, and even then you might not know. But there’s no getting around that the governor has tapped something:

“Chris Christie for president!” Jerry says. His eyes don’t leave his slot machine. Jerry, a retired store manager, lives in Turnersville. “Let state workers pay their fair share,” he growls.

And Lou, even though he’s a retired pipefitter from Mays Landing, a union guy who has worked at the Naval Shipyard and a lot of other places, likes the way Christie’s “going about his business. He’s doing what he has to do. First of all teachers, putting them in their place. And getting rid of bad politicians and crooks.” Who knew?

Robert’s 31, a food service director at an assisted living home in Easton, but he’s a Jersey boy from Bayonne at heart. We chat as he grabs a smoke, taking a break from roulette. “I think Christie is doing something lost in politics,” Robert says. “He’s taking big issues head-on, taking a stand, making changes.” Robert laughs and waves to his wife, who just had a big hit on the roulette wheel. “As long as it’s across the board, and not just teachers—the media makes a lot of the teachers.”

Then there is Chuck. Chuck is sitting at a slot machine, alone, but not facing it. He’s in his late 50s, maybe, with beard stubble, an LV cap—“been to Vegas 300 times!”—and a black nylon Mirage jacket. Chuck worked in construction 30 years, and now he’s got fake knees, and he is a stream of consciousness: “Don’t think much of Christie … Didn’t like election … Acts like he’s above the law … He got traffic tickets he never paid for … ” I press Chuck for specifics. “Just know got tickets, he was getting money trips, the average person go to jail for that. Okay, I’ll tell you something”—and now I lean a little closer, thinking I’m really gonna get the poop—“He’s going to lose weight or die!”

Chuck goes on to tell me that he was attacked outside the casino—a guy pushed him, stole his cell phone and his cane. He needs a couple of bucks to get home to Atco.

The passion for Chris Christie holds, at any rate, no matter what version of humanity you run into down here in A.C.:

“I’m a dyed in the wool Democrat,” Virginia tells me. She’s 83, was a homemaker and assistant to the superintendent of schools in Ridgewood, and is just as passionate as the boys I’ve talked to: “Like in Wisconsin, he’s trying to take rights away that the ordinary person needs. Now he’s got his grip on Atlantic City, and that’s not healthy.”

“We are not fans,” her husband Gordon, 84, who worked in industrial marketing, tells me firmly. “But there are some good things he’s doing.”

“Like what?” Virginia wonders.

“Redirecting fat. Though he’s like a bull in a china shop. He thinks nobody else is legit—it’s either his way or the highway. I’m scared to death he’s going to become president, which the Tea Party would love.”

I talk to eight or 10 more people; it’s the same thing: No wafflers. Chris Christie’s great, he’s terrible, he’s honest, can’t trust him with yesterday’s newspaper. It seems that the governor’s sheer aggression has allowed the folks I stumble upon to imprint onto him whatever they want. In fact, it seems more about them than him, but it is certainly strong. They are certainly listening. And watching.

One other thing: I ask everyone how the gambling goes for them. There’s uniformity on this one too. They say they do pretty well, as if they’ve got it figured out.