By ALFRED P. DOBLIN
RECORD EDITORIAL COLUMNIST
TUESDAY’S Christie victory can be traced back to former Gov. Tom Kean Sr. When Kean was still a state assemblyman he spoke at a high school in Livingston. In the audience was an impressionable young teen. The boy went home and pestered his mother for several days about wanting to get into politics, as Kean tells the story today.
The mother told her son that if he was really serious about getting into politics, he should talk directly to Kean. She drove her son to Kean’s home and the boy rang the doorbell. The then-assemblyman and future governor answered.
The boy told Kean he wanted to be in politics. Kean asked him if he was serious. The boy said yes.
Kean then told the young man that he was about to head to Oradell for a political meeting. If the boy was serious about politics, he should get in the car. The boy did. And that is how Christopher Christie, now the governor-elect, met Tom Kean Sr.
The story may be instructive: When Christie knows what he wants, he goes for it. On Wednesday, the day after the election, he went to Newark. For a Republican, that could be like walking into a lion’s den smelling of hamburger. But instead, Christie was warmly greeted by Steve Adubato Sr. at the powerful Democrat’s pet charter school. Mayor Cory Booker was there, as well.
Christie spoke about education. The state’s mighty teachers union must have been quaking. Christie believes in charter schools and has pledged to bring more of them into inner cities. The Newark school he visited, the Robert Treat Academy, is much lauded. This was a smart political move on the part of the governor-elect. There is much disagreement on the effectiveness of school vouchers and whether they would ultimately undermine public education. But there is no disagreement that good charter schools are viable alternatives to traditional public schools.
During the campaign, Christie told me Kean had given him some advice on working with a Democratic Legislature: From day one agree on what you can’t agree on and then work together on everything else.
It would be foolhardy to expect a new sunrise over the State House with Democrats and Republicans singing “We are the world.” But it is not unrealistic to expect to see a politically savvy governor courting Democrats when their objectives are similar. One of the early and few bipartisan legislative successes of the Bush administration was No Child Left Behind.
A stark contrast to the unity scene in Newark has been the instant and united Democratic dumping of Governor Corzine. State Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Union, explained that Corzine was responsible for his own defeat. Lesniak was quoted as saying, “The governor turned his back on the political establishment that supported him throughout his political career.”
It’s an interesting observation considering Corzine pumped more than a million dollars of his own money into Democratic county organizations across the state. It shows that not only can’t money buy love, it can’t buy loyalty. The governor is partly to blame for his own defeat. But if, in fact, he was done in by a lack of Democratic turnout, that blame should be shared by party leaders.
The Lesniaks of New Jersey, who still have tremendous clout even after Christie’s victory, only let Corzine play in their reindeer games because he brought money to the table. Corzine, to his credit and to his failure, was never one of them. The way leading Democrats are eulogizing, in not very pleasant terms, the man who is still the governor until mid-January, is more unseemly than surprising. It puts the ugly underbelly of politics into the harsh light of day.
If first impressions are a sign, Christie will not be so easily used by Republicans or Democrats. Members of his own party may not welcome collegiality with Democrats. But Christie is unlikely to make concessions without gaining something in return.
Christie has said he doesn’t care if he is liked; he wants to be respected. Listening to many Democrats in the wake of Tuesday’s defeat, it appears that few like or respect Corzine. If that really is the case, it is no wonder that despite the money, the ads, President Obama and a fundamentally decent set of values, that Corzine was defeated.
I don’t think, regardless of what unfolds over the next four years, Christie will end up in a similar situation. He has to have learned something in that car ride from Livingston to Oradell.
Alfred P. Doblin is the editorial page editor of The Record. Contact him at email@example.com