Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono was in North Jersey on Tuesday to unveil her plan to save New Jersey’s cities, where record-breaking murder rates and entrenched poverty have continued under Republican Gov. Christie.
Urban issues would seem to be a perfect fit for Buono. Cities are heavily Democratic, and many of her policy differences with Christie deal with poverty: She wants to restore a tax credit for the working poor that Christie cut. She opposes his dismantling of the system to create affordable housing. And as a state senator, she voted for a minimum wage increase that he then vetoed.
But in an allegory for Buono’s uphill campaign, as she prepared to release her big urban revitalization proposals Christie was in Camden, the state’s poorest and most dangerous city, where he was hugged, kissed and praised by a Democratic mayor.
Before TV cameras from Philadelphia stations — and one from the national CBS program Sunday Morning — Camden Mayor Dana Redd described the governor as her bipartisan partner. With Redd’s backing, Christie took over the school system and appointed a new superintendent; with Christie’s backing, Redd disbanded the police department and let Camden County come in to run a new force.
In short, on Buono’s day for unveiling how she would help New Jersey’s most vulnerable citizens, Christie got far more media attention for claiming he was already doing just that. He had capitalized on a strategic alliance with the South Jersey Democrats he has courted since his first day in office.
“I love this city,” Christie told children at R.T. Cream Elementary School. “And I believe that families in this city deserve better than what’s happening right now. So we’re going to work hard together to get there.”
Christie wouldn’t talk with most reporters at the event, in which he sat next to Redd and the new schools superintendent he recently appointed, Paymon Rouhanifard. But he took questions from the assembled students on his favorite book (The Great Gatsby), favorite food (pasta) and favorite movie (The Godfather).
“That’s a more important answer for the legislators than for you,” he said of the last question.
Redd said the state takeover of Camden schools had already yielded results, with new computers for students in three of the district’s 31 schools. She noted that Woodrow Wilson High School students actually knew their schedules on the first day of school: “That’s major on day one — not a week later, not a month later.”
“They’ve come with purpose, and they’re really transforming our district,” Redd said of the state officials running the district.
Meanwhile, in Irvington, Essex County, Buono was flanked by elected officials from cities throughout the state — but representatives from Camden were notably absent. Redd, who has endorsed Buono, said the governor’s visit and her city budget address required her to stay in Camden.
Buono’s plan is largely a collection of positions she has previously announced. It includes worker training programs, incentives for small businesses, universal background checks for gun owners (which Christie vetoed), and the conversion of foreclosed properties into affordable housing (which Christie also vetoed).
The three-page plan doesn’t go into specifics, nor address how the government-funded programs would be paid for.
In introducing the plan, Buono cited a new report from Legal Services of New Jersey that concludes the state has its highest poverty rate in a half-century, with a third of New Jerseyans — 2.7 million people — classified as poor.
“How is that by any stretch of the imagination acceptable?” Buono asked in Irvington.
She then delved into urban violence.
“We have our young people dying all over New Jersey as a result of gun violence, and this violence jeopardizes the future of our great state,” she said. “We need a leader that’s willing to address it. You know, this leader’s really tough until it comes to standing up to the NRA.”
The Christie campaign countered with a statement Tuesday noting that Buono opposes the proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act, which would give tax breaks to businesses that pay for scholarships for children in poor districts to attend schools of their choice. Pounding the bipartisan theme he has used throughout the campaign, Christie’s statement included quotes from several Democrats who support the bill.
“We’ll be back,” Christie told Redd on Tuesday on his way out of Cream School. “If there’s any problems, lemme know.”
A few minutes later, the Republican governor and Democratic mayor met up again in the Cream School playground. Christie and Redd lingered without aides, talking for about 10 minutes, before hugging and kissing goodbye.