Christie’s tough guy stance can’t conceal a caring heart

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Graphic by the NewBostonPost

Graphic by the NewBostonPost

A heavy silence hung over the room. A man with aphasia – his stutter allowing him to speak in only a few strained words at a time – pleads with Chris Christie for help with his health at a Nov. 11 town hall-style meeting in Coralville, Iowa.

“I can see in your eyes the frustration and the sadness that this brings to you and it touches my heart,” the Republican presidential contender responded.

The exchange was captured by a campaign video camera and e-mailed to reporters under the title, “True Heart Episode 1.” ‘True Heart’ is the name of one of television’s Care Bears characters. It is also the Secret Service nickname Christie had chosen for himself at a GOP debate in September. Though panned as a gaffe by entertainment news website, the New Jersey governor’s campaign embraced it, issuing two ‘True Heart’ videos.

“If you don’t cry then, with her, then you’ve got nothing in here,” Christie said, pointing to his chest.

The second was from a town hall-style meeting before Christmas in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where a woman asked if Christie had ever cried in office. The answer: “Yeah. Multiple times.” That became almost daily during the recovery from the 2012 Hurricane Sandy, where Christie described crying with a woman who had to throw out a flood-ruined recliner chair that was her last memento left by her recently deceased husband.

“If you don’t cry then, with her, then you’ve got nothing in here,” Christie said, pointing to his chest.

For a candidate who is running on a platform of national security, such ‘True Heart’ moments let the former federal prosecutor connect emotionally with voters. Christie’s softer side has also translated into formal policy. He has halted the jailing of nonviolent first-time drug offenders in New Jersey, instead diverting them to treatment for drug addiction, which he calls a disease.

“He knew the tragedy and evil of terrorism firsthand.” — William Palatucci, a New Jersey lawyer who is the campaign’s general counsel and a longtime friend and former law partner of the governor.

But national security concerns nonetheless dominate the message and the persona Christie projects as a candidate. His crosshairs are firmly fixed on Islamic State – only because they have targeted us, Christie says.

“We’re who they’re after. They’re coming for us,” he said at a town hall-style meeting in Hooksett, Hew Hampshire, last month.

Christie says he knows what it takes to fight terrorists because he has done it as the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey who accepted the post job on Sept. 10, 2001.

“The job that I accepted Sept. 10 became very different the next day,” Christie said at the Jan. 25 Hooksett event.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks touched the whole Christie family.

Christie’s wife, Mary Pat, worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, the New York-based bond-trading firm which lost hundreds of employees in the attacks. When the World Trade Center towers were hit, she was two blocks away, but she couldn’t contact Christie for nearly six hours.

Christie feared the worst and worried that he had become a single father to their children, according to William Palatucci, a longtime friend and former law partner who is general counsel to the governor’s presidential campaign.

“It clearly had a profound effect on him both personally and how he approached the job as U.S. attorney. He knew the tragedy and evil of terrorism firsthand,” Palatucci said.

Chris Christie at a town hall meeting in Hooksett. (NewBostonPost photo)

Chris Christie at a town hall meeting in Hooksett. (NewBostonPost photo)

As U.S. attorney, he would go on to prosecute four high-profile terrorism cases, including the overseas murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and a foiled plot to attack New Jersey’s sprawling Fort Dix military base, according to a tally by the Washington Post. In terms of sheer volume of cases, however, anti-terrorism was dwarfed by anti-corruption probes, which led to 130 convictions or pleas during Christie’s seven-year tenure, according to the Post.

As governor, Christie’s handling of severe weather rather than security concerns, have captured headlines again and again.

Storms seem to especially bring out the acerbic, tough-talking side of Christie. Just over one year before Sandy, Hurricane Irene was barreling down on the state, prompting the Governor to issue this blunt directive to sunbathers at a press conference: “Get the hell off the beach in Asbury Park and get out. You’re done. It’s 4:30. You’ve maximized your tan. Get off the beach,” Christie barked.

The moment earned praise and led invited a conservative blogger for the Washington Post to compare the governor with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a fellow Republican.

“That sort of no-nonsense, blunt talk and his command of the situation will, I am certain, cement an image of the governor as a tough-as-nails leader for many residents and those across the country,” wrote the blogger, Jennifer Rubin. “Not since Rudy Giuliani in the 9-11 aftermath (under much, much worse conditions) have we seen a public figure take the reigns in a disaster with such authority.”

Then came a sharp retort to a heckler at an event marking the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy: “Sit down and shut up!”

In Hooksett, Christie sought to put the widely cited remark in context: the man had been screaming and interrupting his speech and the governor had first asked him nicely to stop. But ultimately he didn’t apologize for how he ended things.

“You know why I told him to sit down and shut up? Because he needed to sit down and shut up,” Christie said to laughter from his audience.

A blizzard which dumped over 2 feet of snow on New Jersey last month gave Christie another chance to plug his experience in handling emergencies.

“Whether it’s an impending storm or whether it’s the scourge of radical Islamic jihadist terrorism, you have to make people be safe and secure,” he said at a gathering of prospective voters in Portsmouth, the day after the storm, calling himself the “disaster governor.”

“You know why I told him to sit down and shut up? Because he needed to sit down and shut up.” — Christie on a widely cited remark he made at a Hurricane Sandy anniversary event.

Christopher James Christie was born Sept. 6, 1962, in Newark, New Jersey. His father, an accountant, was a Republican, but Christie credits his mother Sondra, a Democrat, with getting him into politics. She pressed him to volunteer for the gubernatorial campaign of Tom Keane in 1977, according to a 2009 profile in

Christie graduated from the University of Delaware, where he majored in political science. That’s also where he met Mary Pat. They married in 1986. A year later, Christie graduated from Seton Hall University’s law school. Mary Pat also attended graduate school at the South Orange, New Jersey-based institution, earning a master of business administration degree.

Upon graduating, Christie joined Dughi and Hewit, a law firm in Cranford, New Jersey. In 1992, Christie volunteered for then-President George H. W. Bush’s re-election campaign. That association introduced him to Palatucci, whom he invited to join his firm after the election. Palatucci has since risen to become a named partner at Dughi and Hewit.

“He was a really, really good lawyer,” Palatucci said of the governor. Christie brought a passion for the law, a love of solving problems for people, and terrific listening skills, the partner said. He added that when Christie was “arguing in a courtroom, there was nobody else you wanted on the case than Chris Christie.”

“He’s got a big heart but he can be tough.” — Palatucci on his former colleague.

“He’s got a big heart but he can be tough” when he needs to be, Palatucci said. “He was always a fabulous communicator and that always came across, and he was also fun to work with.”

Christie was a jovial officemate, Palatucci said. The governor often reveals his sense of humor, appearing on late-night shows with comics like David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon, on “Saturday Night Live” and in other venues. In one February 2013 session with Letterman, who made Christie’s substantial girth a frequent target during his time on air, the governor hauled a jelly doughnut from a pocket and bit into it as the comedian was trying to apologize for making fun of his weight.

Christie’s first campaign for a state senate seat, a challenge to incumbent Republican Senate Majority Leader John Dorsey in 1993, failed. But in 1994 he was elected as a Morris County freeholder – a position equivalent to a county commissioner. Christie held the post until 1997.

After securing his commitment to take the U.S. Attorney’s job, then-President George W. Bush formally announced the appointment on Dec. 7, 2001, the 60th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – the deadliest attack on U.S. soil until Sept. 11. Christie held the job until 2008, when he resigned to run for governor against incumbent Jon Corzine, a Democrat and former Wall Street banker, in a state that backed Barrack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney by 15 percentage points in 2008.

The newcomer prevailed in the November 2009 vote by 4.2 percentage points, campaigning on a platform calling for lower taxes, fighting political corruption and restoring the recession-racked economy. Christie, the first Republican elected statewide in over a decade, won re-election in 2013 in a landslide, with 60.4 percent of the vote, despite heavy opposition from labor unions.

In Hooksett, Christie criticized Obama, a one-term U.S. senator when he launched his 2008 campaign, for his lack of experience coming into the White House, saying that serving as a legislator and running a small senate staff is no preparation for the presidency – a not-so-subtle swipe at rivals for the GOP presidential nomination, including Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who won the Iowa caucus, and Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who finished third in Iowa.

But Christie’s record as governor has been far from spotless. His administration was embroiled in a political scandal stemming from the September 2013 closure of two lanes of a major road leading to the George Washington Bridge that connects New Jersey over the Hudson River to upper Manhattan.

Some members of his administration shut down the lanes in apparent retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee for not supporting Christie’s re-election that year. The closures, which went on for days, created major traffic ties ups around the western foot of the bridge in Fort Lee.

But two years later, the scandal seems to have faded. No one in the Hooksett meeting asked about it until the roughly two-hour session was nearing its end.

“A few people on my staff did something that was very wrong,” the governor responded. “I never knew anything about it. I didn’t authorize it. I didn’t know what was going on.”

“I found out for the first time on Jan. 8 of 2014,” he told the questioner, an undecided voter.  “When I found out, I was sick.”

Three independent investigations came to the same conclusion, Christie said. A probe by a law firm commissioned by his administration found that he did nothing wrong. His successor as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fishman, an Obama appointee, obtained indictments against three state officials, including Christie’s former chief of staff. Fishman announced last May that there would be no further charges.

But a third probe by the Democrat-controlled state legislature sought to suggest that Christie may have been involved in some way. Its report found “no conclusive evidence” that he had been, but it also complained of a lack of access to key witnesses, according to and

Christie says the whole affair, from what staff members did to the fallout, has made him a better leader.

“What did it teach me? You can’t be so trusting,” Christie said. “It taught me that I had to even ask more questions than I was asking already.”

“Has it made me better? Yes it’s made me stronger, because I got crucified by the media,” he said.

“A few people on my staff did something that was very wrong,” Christie said about actions that tied up traffic in Fort Lee, New Jersey, as a way to punish the suburban city’s mayor. “I didn’t authorize it. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Polls of likely Republican voters show Christie struggling to break out of a pack of so-called establishment candidates, including Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. In Iowa, Christie finished 10th with 1.8 percent of caucus goers supporting him, just behind Kasich, at 1.9 percent, and Bush at 2.8 percent. But Christie’s campaign said in a statement this week that the Floridian had outspent him 25 to 1.

Christie should fare better in New Hampshire, where he has spent 65 days – more than any other candidate on both sides of the aisle, according to a WMUR-TV tally through Jan. 26. Kasich was second at 60 days. Depending on the poll, Christie is either at the top or the bottom of the middle tier of candidates in the Granite State. The latest average of major polls from puts Christie sixth behind Donald Trump, the New York billionaire, Cruz, Kasich, Rubio and Bush.

A video of town hall-style meetings released by his campaign Tuesday sharpens Christie’s message as a tough-talking doer who fights for constituents. One questioner asks about the governor’s reputation as a hothead and whether that’s something that may be necessary to get things done.

“I will fight for the people who elected me every day I get the chance to do it and if every once in a while, I get a little too hot for your taste? Then raise your hand and tell me I’m a little too hot for your taste,” Christie says on the screen.

“I take input, but be careful when you do it. All right?” he adds with a mischievous glare.