Christie panel debates governor's legacy

Former New Jersey governors and policy experts say Gov. Chris Christie achieved some milestones as governor, both good and bad.

ATLANTIC CITY — From the highs of capping government spending to the lows of a bridge shutdown, Gov. Chris Christie’s legacy is a decidedly mixed bag.

So says a group of former governors and policy experts who met Wednesday as part of the 102nd annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference’s panel on the legacy of the governor. The conference at the Atlantic City Convention Center wraps up Thursday with Gov.-elect Phil Murphy giving the keynote address at the League Luncheon.

“He has a fantastic legacy,” said Donald DiFrancesco, a Republican governor from 2001-02. “I think that he has done a lot governmentally, but the perception is bad.”

The panel also included former Govs. James J. Florio, James E. McGreevey and John O. Bennett, and Benjamin Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for NJ Politics at Rider University, and Brigid Harrison, a professor at Montclair State University and president of the New Jersey Political Science Association.

“Many of us, in 2009, had high hopes that this was someone who was going to turn Trenton upside down,” Harrison said. “It quickly became apparent because of his relationship with party bosses, Democratic and Republican, and then soon thereafter his presidential ambitions, that the people in the state of New Jersey got shortchanged.”

The lack of economic growth in the state compared to the rest of the region was a key factor in Christie’s approval rating continuing to fall, Harrison said.

“His administration was a squandered opportunity,” she said.

Florio said Christie’s brash style, once considered refreshing by many, contributed in part to his downfall.

“You can’t tell your constituents to shut up,” Florio said.

Most of Christie’s key legislative accomplishments came in the first couple of years, Dworkin said.

“It’s a potential that was untapped,” Dworkin said of Christie’s tenure. “He had incredible policy accomplishments. You have to look at Chris Christie’s tenure beyond the two gates (Bridge and Beach). He was a talented politician.”

While touting Christie’s accomplishments, including arbitration reform, Bennett, a Republican who was governor for four days in 2002, said the history books would not view his tenure as a success.

“It’s hard to win re-election at 60 percent (approval) and leave office at 15 percent,” Bennett said.

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Started working in newsrooms when I was 17 years old. Spent 15 years working for Gannett New Jersey before coming to The Press of Atlantic City in April 2015.