Not for the first time, Gov. Chris Christie’s ramped-up town hall tour of New Jersey towns brought him and his budget message on Wednesday to West Deptford, Gloucester County — practically around the corner from the offices of state Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
Christie has been many times to this neck of the woods, where Sweeney, the highest ranking state Democrat, has held legislative office for nine years: In June, Christie came to Gibbstown touting his local tax-cap plan, and in November to Sewell, Washington Township, talking about his tool kit for reining in municipal budgets. Every time he comes, the governor tells the crowd about his struggles with Democratic legislators obstructing their agenda, and — nudge, wink — urges them to call their legislators to speak their mind about “footdragging.”
But when he has finished that familiar routine, Christie also has to deal with a few familiar routines played on him by members of the crowd.
Every time he has come to New Jersey, Christie comes face to face with Jen Cavallero.
Cavallero, vice president of the Swedesboro-Woolwich School District board of education, has done everything to get Christie’s attention — waiting in long lines at the popular public forums to take the microphone, or sitting in the front row in West Deptford’s Pope John Paul II school gymnasium on Wednesday, waiting for the governor to arrive.
Christie laughed with surprise and recognition when Cavallero stood up: Since he took office, she has lobbied his office to notice how her district is the fastest-growing district statewide, and also spends the least per pupil — $8,600 per student, rather than the average of $17,000.
This time, however, she came with an unusual request: Could the state find “extraordinary aid” for her rapidly overpopulating school district?
Signaling that perhaps her persistence would pay off, Christie responded that he could not promise aid but would try. Her repeated routine could result in the first ever such award from the state to an education district.
“I still have my office looking into the legal implications, ’cause we’ve never done that kind of extraordinary aid for a school district,” he said. “We’ve done it for municipalities.”
Monmouth Park seeks new operator
Late on Friday, Christie moved further toward his goal of weaning horse racing off state funds — not only enacting an expansion for off-track wagering, bringing more revenues to horsemen’s groups, but also preparing to search for operators interested in leasing Monmouth Park racetrack. The move follows news in December of plans to lease the Meadowlands to a private operator, possibly Jeff Gural who runs Tioga Downs in New York state.
“We were successful in the Meadowlands, and we can do the same for Monmouth Park to the benefit of New Jersey taxpayers,” Christie said. “I want to see a vibrant but self-sustaining horse-racing industry in New Jersey, but that can be accomplished without tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies every year.”
Christie also signed a piece of legislation that means the 12 unused off-track wagering parlor licenses previously authorized statewide could be taken over by new owners. All idle licenses are currently held either by the state’s Sports and Exposition Authority or by racetrack operators.
Looking for leverage
Over the next week in Trenton, two men vying for the 2nd district Senate seat take on different campaigning strategies.
Assemblyman Vince Polistina, who is challenging Sen. Jim Whelan, has already started to pressure Whelan over his previous support for Democrats’ state budgets.
“Jim Whelan should admit what everyone knows is true — that he hasn’t gotten a budget vote right since he’s been in Trenton,” said Polistina. “As both an assemblyman and senator, he ignored the deepening fiscal and economic crisis we’re now facing and sided with Gov. Corzine to support higher taxes, more spending and runaway debt.”
Whelan has said that he intends to look at Christie’s budget to maximize job-creation opportunities.
“We need to evaluate how this proposal will impact middle class families in New Jersey, many of whom are unemployed or underemployed, and cannot afford a state budget that continually places the burden on them,” he said.
While Polistina reminds voters of previous budget quarrels, Whelan intends to visit the Borders bookstore in Mays Landing on Friday, to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss by reading from the author’s books, starting at 4 p.m.
Elsewhere in Atlantic County, Republican Chairman Keith Davis gave a thank-you card signed by elected officials, party leaders and activists to representatives of Christie on Wednesday, in recognition of his efforts in getting financing in place for the Revel casino project.
“Everyone acknowledges that if it wasn’t for Gov. Christie, this critical project to our region would not have been reignited,” Davis said. “Our county Republican organization is thankful that we have a governor who is proactive in creating jobs in our region and has prioritized Atlantic City’s rebirth as one of his top goals.”
Davis gave the card to Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who attended the annual Lincoln Dinner in Galloway on Wednesday.
People and Power by Juliet Fletcher, The Press of Atlantic City’s Statehouse Bureau reporter, appears every Sunday. Fletcher can be reached at: