Called 'mentally deranged,' but Christie holds his fire

Gov. Christie addressing a joint session of the Legislature on property taxes last year. Behind him are Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Senate President Stephen Sweeney. (THOMAS P. COSTELLO / Asbury Park Press)

Did Gov. Christie lose his most important Democratic allies this summer?

Both State Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, after siding with the governor against the wishes of their base on health and pension reform for public workers, have now turned on him using quite colorful language.

First up was Sweeney, who was so angry over what he described as Christie’s mean-spirited budget cuts at the end of June that he called the governor a “bully,” “punk” and “rotten prick.”

Next came Oliver, who was incensed after Mother Jones magazine released audio this week from a secret meeting of conservatives in Colorado. Christie is heard telling the group that he promised Oliver he would deliver Assembly Republican votes to protect her as speaker if there was a Democratic coup against her for siding with him on that reform bill.

As we reported yesterday, Oliver said these were “outright lies,” and she was "beginning to wonder if Gov. Christie is mentally deranged.”

Christie is standing by his story. He said at a press conference yesterday afternoon that he provided Oliver an “insurance policy” that she was looking for. However, he chose not to dip into his considerably rich vocabulary (he once called another assemblywoman a “jerk”), and he refrained from calling her names in response:

“I am not going to respond to any legislative leader who calls me names. I have great respect for the speaker, she’s a wonderful partner, she can say whatever is she wants to say, but I’m not going to get into this name-calling stuff and all the rest of it. It’s beneath the office I hold. I know what happened. I said honestly what happened. I don’t back away from a word of it.”

He added: “I don’t understand the whole thing, to tell you the truth. I think it’s a great story about New Jersey.”

The episode has now thrown Oliver’s leadership into question, with several Democrats questioning her truthfulness and whether she should be re-elected by the Assemby as speaker in January if she's making policy and political deals with the Republican governor. And the liberal blog, Blue Jersey, argues that the tandem of Oliver and Sweeney are too beholden to the power brokers George Norcross and Steve Adubato, who are in turn too tied into the governor, to be effective Democratic leaders.

But if Sweeney and Oliver keep calling Christie names, will that save their jobs?