By Melissa Hayes, The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
TRENTON, NJ—New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie blamed the state’s largest public employees union for orchestrating interruptions at his public events — and that was before he was confronted by a group of Rutgers University students.
Christie called the unions “special interests who have polluted Trenton all these years.” Then, after predicting outbursts, Christie asked the 400 attendees gathered in South River to wait until any shouting was over to ask their questions.
The governor was in the Middlesex County community hit hard by Superstorm Sandy to promote the state’s purchasing of flood-prone homes and talk about efforts to rebuild the state 16 months after the devastating storm.
Christie has been holding storm recovery and budget promotion events across the state in recent weeks. He’s using the events to try to bolster his image while state and federal investigators look into his administration’s involvement in lane closures at the George Washington Bridge. His next event is set for Flemington on Thursday, following a trip today to Michigan, where he is to raise money for the Republican Governors Association, which he heads.
At Tuesday’s meeting Christie attacked the Communications Workers of America, blaming the public employee union for the protesters at his Mount Laurel event last week. Six Rowan University students affiliated with the union-backed New Jersey Working Families Alliance had been escorted out for shouting over questions from people Christie called on.
But the Rutgers students leading Tuesday’s protest said they weren’t affiliated with the union. They wanted to bring attention to the $4.8 million in federal Sandy aid going to the developer of a 240-unit high-rise in New Brunswick, in exchange for providing 48 affordable units.
“It’s a diversion tactic to discredit the union so that the general populace doesn’t look at the governor,” said David Bedford, secretary of the Rutgers Student Union.
Seth Hahn, CWA New Jersey’s legislative and political director, called the governor’s remarks insulting and said Christie should answer the questions about Sandy aid and the lane closures.
As with the Mount Laurel event, attendees were required to pass through a state police security check. State police Capt. Stephen Jones said the security measures were not related to protests or a specific incident, but were in place because the events have grown in popularity and the state wants to ensure attendees’ safety.
One union member who got caught up in the demonstration was Carol Gay, the president of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council — a federation of public and private unions.
Gay said she didn’t know the students and was there to call for David Samson, the Christie-appointed chairman of the Port Authority board, to resign for participating in board votes that benefited himself or his law firm’s clients.
Tuesday’s event was packed with Sandy victims like Andrew Horezga of South Amboy, who told the governor he is concerned that the state’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Grant requires homeowners to place insurance funds in escrow before receiving the federal aid.
Christie said that’s a federal requirement and anyone receiving the grant — up to $150,000 to help residents rebuild — must agree to it.
Horezga said his family is now finalizing paperwork in hopes of receiving funds soon.
“As a Sandy victim, I’m going to say that at the end of the day, until it’s signed, sealed and delivered and I can invite the governor over for dinner, I really don’t have any fundamental trust or faith,” he said.
Other storm victims said they were at the event because the state helped them relocate after the storm.
“I was going to thank him, his team,” said Theresa Iacouzzi-Mills of Sayreville. “You know how they say it takes a village to raise a child? Well, it took a village to get me together.”
AFP Photo/Jim Watson