CHESILHURST - The Republican gov snagged an endorsement this afternoon from the mayor of tiny Chesilhurst, Camden County – an African American Democrat – as part of a continued effort to frame himself as a bipartisan leader of a blue state.
"I'll admit I was a little hesitant at first when he first got in," said Mayor Michael Blunt of Christie.
But Blunt was impressed on several fronts. When Blunt asked Christie to hold a town hall meeting in Chesilhurst, he did. When Blunt asked for financial aid for the borough, Christie provided it. And at an event marking the end of slavery, Christie showed an understanding of racial history.
"Gov. Christie has done so many things for the borough of Chesilhurst...that I would be crazy not to support someone who puts some food on the table for the borough of Chesilhurst," Blunt said. "He'sfrom the old school, when a handshake meant something."
Christie said: "What we've done is work hard to develop relationships with folks over the last three years."
Blunt said a representative from the campaign of Christie's opponent, Sen. Barbara Buono, called him today before the event. But he didn't change his mind.
The timing of the endorsement was striking because yesterday, the highest-elected African American in the state accused Christie of stoking "racial polarization."
Christie was holding a town hall meeting at an African American church in largely minority Paterson yesterday when a man repeatedly shouted at him: "Fix the public schools!"
Christie responded by referencing a school choice bill that he said would help inner city school children -- but Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver was blocking it.
"We have an African-American, female speaker of the Assembly who represents communities like East Orange and Orange where there are failing schools all over and she refuses to let people vote on this bill," Christie said.
Oliver angrily reacted to his comments, releasing this statement: "I have never, nor will I ever, reference the governor's ethnicity, or make a veiled reference to the color of his skin, yet that's exactly what Gov. Christie did today when discussing me, as if it was the 19th century...Governor - if you have a problem with me, call me by name. Do not reference my ethnicity to try to score cheap headlines and salacious YouTube videos...Gov. Christie needs to spend more time devising sound policy and less time playing racial polarization."
Christie wouldn't take questions about the accusations of "racial polarization" at the endorsement event today at Chesilhurst Borough Hall. But Blunt said he wouldn't mind if the governor referred to him as an "African American mayor."