Heckled & beloved, Christie wades into urban Dem territory

ORANGE — The heckler, decked out in two buttons with the name Christie crossed out, trailed Gov. Christie up and down Main Street in this small, mostly minority, working-class city Tuesday afternoon.

Beryl Mills was one of more than a dozen who showed up in downtown Orange to yell at Christie about everything from his opposition to the minimum wage to his cuts to education funding his first year in office to the downtown library that has been closed for months.

A couple of hecklers even threw in fat jokes.

But following Christie as he greeted starstruck, camera-wielding workers at a wig store, Chase bank and RadioShack, Mill softened. Moments before he got back into his SUV, Christie took both of her anti-Christie buttons and gave them to Joseph “Joe D.” DiVincenzo, the Essex County executive and high-profile Democratic Christie supporter.

“I got you now, don’t I? … Half an hour work! Miracles do happen, baby,” Christie yelled to cheers as he pulled Mills in for a hug. He then looked her in the eyes: “I appreciate it very much.”

Afterward, Mills said she still had concerns that Christie hadn’t done enough to help urban areas like Orange or stand up to national Republicans who “say awful things.” As for voting for him in November against Barbara Buono, a Democratic state senator? “I got to sleep on it.”

In an overwhelmingly Democratic town where the Republican governor received just 5.5 percent of the vote in 2009, that could be construed as a win for Christie. More significantly, his presence in Orange encapsulates his campaign strategy with six weeks to go before Election Day.

Foremost, Christie is highlighting bipartisanship. Escorting him Tuesday down Main Street was DiVincenzo, considered the most powerful Democrat in North Jersey.

“Anywhere in the county, wherever he wants me, I’ll go,” DiVincenzo said.

Last week, Christie appeared with the two highest elected Democrats in the state, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, for a bill signing. On Wednesday, he will be with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, at a ribbon-cutting in Newark.

Christie also is touting diversity. With Christie on Tuesday was Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren, one of two Democratic African American mayors who have endorsed the governor. The other, Chesilhurst Mayor Michael Blunt, now appears in a Christie campaign ad. Christie has secured dozens of endorsements from Democratic elected officials.

The choice of Orange for a campaign event, despite the potential for increased heckling, also reflected the campaign’s approach. Of late, Christie has been spending a lot of time in Essex and Union Counties — and in cities, such as Newark.

Democrats have said that one of their reasons for endorsing Christie is to make sure that the money keeps flowing from Trenton once he is reelected. They say Christie has helped them directly — and actually talks to them personally.

“When I came into office, we needed help; we were in dire straits. I called the county; there were no resources. I called other places; there were no resources,” said Warren, the mayor. But then Christie personally took his calls and helped with a stalled urban transit development and more money for a summer nutritional program.

In casting Christie as insensitive to issues affecting minorities, Buono has highlighted Christie’s refusal to oppose the Supreme Court decision striking down parts of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters. But Warren said that while he disagrees with Christie on many issues, he is supporting him for another reason.

“This is not an endorsement of the Chris Christie policies and politics; this is an endorsement of certain actions he took on behalf of Orange,” Warren said.

Buono is becoming increasingly willing to attack elected Democrats for supporting her opponent. Her campaign put out a news release Tuesday from the Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, the state’s largest firefighters union. It said Buono has something in common with firefighters:

“While some Democratic leaders and local Democratic mayors have abandoned Sen. Buono for fear of losing favor with an overbearing administration and shown no political courage whatsoever, our firefighters choose the only Democrat in the state that has the courage to take on Chris Christie.”

Another union, the Communication Workers of America, which represents public employees, arrived by bus in Orange on Tuesday. Their “Christie has to go” chants competed against “Christie has to stay” in a scene that at times verged on the chaotic, with Christie supporters and anti-Christie activists yelling at each other.

“Keep the silver spoon in your mouth … you know nothing about hardworking people!” yelled Bernard Chase III, a substitute teacher in Newark.

But Latronia Jones of Roselle offered another view — and another key reason why Christie remains popular, even in urban areas that he lost in 2009.

“He took care of us during Hurricane Sandy,” said Jones, whose home was under seven feet of water. “I love him.”