A bridge joke for Christie

Thousands crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge in the 2012 Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge 10K. The annual race raises money for the Larc School in Bellmawr. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)

During his recent town halls, Gov. Christie hasn’t been getting Bridgegate questions from the public. At an appearance today in Camden, he got a bridge joke – from a powerful Democrat who also praised the Republican governor.

“There’s one thing the governor, with all his power, has not been able to achieve,” George Norcross, the South Jersey Democratic power broker and chairman of Cooper University Hospital, told a crowd of Camden officials and business types at Cooper Medical School, where Christie participated in an event promoting a new hybrid district-charter school that is partly a project of Norcross’s.

“I’m the one who’s able to shut down a bridge,” Norcross said, “and have the LARC school charitable run for 7,000 people.” Cooper University Hospital and The Norcross Foundation sponsor a race over the Ben Franklin Bridge to benefit the special-education school.

The line drew loud applause – including from Christie. While it drew attention to the controversy that has been dogging the Republican governor, it effectively made light of the situation.

Norcross – who is a managing partner of the Inquirer's parent company – has been an ally of Christie’s. As other Democrats have attacked Christie over the George Washington Bridge lane closures, Norcross has largely stayed out of the public fray. In December, before the “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email broke, Norcross was quoted in the Washington Post suggesting that Democrats direct their attention elsewhere.

“If I was a national Democratic leader, I’d be pretty concerned about circumstances involving the implementation of Obamacare right now versus trying to speculate as to who might be the Republican nominee in a number of years,” Norcross told the Post.

At the medical school Wednesday, Norcross greeted Christie with a smile and a handshake. Also present were Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), a sometimes-partner of Christie’s who recently has been publicly critical of the governor, and Norcross’s brother, Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), who is running for Congress.

During his remarks, Norcross mentioned Christie’s appearance in Camden in October for the opening of the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper.

He segued into a few cracks at Christie’s favorite NFL team, noting that since October, “the Dallas Cowboys collapsed – as I predicted.” He said he texted Christie during the team’s last game, “to make sure he was watching” the downfall.

Norcross also made note of the November elections. “The governor and I and many of my colleagues rumbled pretty hard with him. We won that one, too, for the Legislature,” he said, to some laughs. “We’re proud.”

While he helped raise money for legislative Democrats – who retained their majorities in both houses – Norcross did little to boost the campaign of Democrat Barbara Buono, who lost to Christie by 22 points.

After the jokes, Norcross commended Christie’s “bold leadership” and attention to Camden.

“You are our friend, and will be our friend,” he told Christie.

Taking the podium, Christie said, “Yeah, old George is something, isn’t he? Kicks me around, and then he says all those nice things to me right before I come up here.”

In an apparent nod to working with Norcross, Christie said, "It's, to me, irrelevant for the purposes of what we’ve accomplished here in Camden which party you’re from."