Anyone hoping for fireworks at Gov. Christie's "Jersey Comeback" road show in Haddonfield on Tuesday left disappointed.
Opponents of the proposed merger of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University — about which the Republican governor said nothing — didn't get much satisfaction either.
But those who lined up in the rain, then sat or stood for two hours in Haddonfield Middle School's swampy gymnasium, to watch a gifted politician at the top of his game seemed to come away pleased.
"I like the fact that he stands up to do what we hired him to do," said Deb Kranz, a Mount Laurel businesswoman and self-described conservative Republican. "I respect his tenacity, strength, and determination."
Kranz was tenacious, too. With the gym filled to capacity, she stood outside with about a half-dozen people, including a silent, sign-carrying trio of protesters concerned about Camden, and listened to the governor through an open door.
If what the audience heard was short on surprises, it was long on applause lines.
Taxes will be cut, Christie declared, if those silly Democrats in the state Assembly come to their senses. The tenure system for educators can be reformed if unions become student- rather than teacher-centric.
"What the teachers' union is about," he charged, "is protecting the worst." And bureaucrats "sitting in cubicles" are to blame for many of New Jersey's woes. "What ‘Trenton makes,'?" the governor said, referring to the capital's landmark bridge, "are stupid ideas … our main export now."
Deftly working a crowd that was enthusiastic but decorous — perhaps because of heat, or just Haddonfield-ness — Christie was gracious and in good humor.
He took questions about "food deserts" in Camden, solar power, and the needs of autistic children, along with juvenile binge drinking and his cap on municipal budget increases. He had a cute-kid moment with a third-grade girl in pink, and he riffed on some of his favorite subjects, such as the need to recast the state Supreme Court.
Christie made only passing reference to the Legislature's stinging rejection of his two recent high court nominees, opting to lambaste the court itself for "making" rather than "interpreting" the law. That line drew the event's most robust applause.
And while he was enthusiastic about his friendship with state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D., Gloucester), Christie unleashed the afternoon's only real zingers at Sweeney's compatriot, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D., Camden), mocking him as wearing "nice suits" and "talking real smooth."
Several opponents of the Rutgers-Rowan merger were ready with questions, but they were not among the dozen people called upon by the governor.
"I want to know the exact number for what this merger will cost," John Wall, a Rutgers-Camden religion professor who lives in Haddonfield, told me during the session.
Others in the gym were there simply to enjoy the occasion. "I've never been in the presence of a governor," said retired teacher Mark Heston, 72, who lives nearby.
Anne Vial, also of Haddonfield, said she has "mixed feelings" about Christie, but admires that he "speaks his mind and doesn't seem to play games."
In that she sounded like Mount Laurel's Kranz.
"I like his straightforwardness," she said.
"He's Chris Christie."