The two Christies: 'Destructive' to some, 'refreshing' to others

Diane Berry holds a sign asking voters not to make Gov. Chris Christie next president. (ERIN McCARTHY/Inquirer Staff)

LIVINGSTON, N.J. - Even as 1,000 supporters cheered on Gov. Christie as he announced his candidacy for president on Tuesday inside Livingston High School, the scene outside was remarkably different, as hundreds denounced his policies in New Jersey.

The duality underscored Christie's polarizing style and demonstrated that even though the Republican governor has earned a reputation for confronting harsh realities with tough solutions, he's also lost the support of a wide swath of New Jersey residents.

Just 30 percent of the state's registered voters view him favorably, while 55 percent disapprove of his performance, according to a recent Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind poll.

"Gov. Christie's policies have been destructive for New Jersey. If he's elected president, they'll be destructive for the country," said Anthony Rosamilia, an American history teacher at Livingston and president of the Essex County Teachers Association. "A lot of people wanted to take part in sending that message."

On the other hand, Marissa Bucci, 38, who home-schools her three children, said she finds Christie "refreshing." She said, "You get tired of all the other politicians skirting around the issues."

Some of Christie's biggest detractors marched outside, including the largest teachers' union, the Sierra Club, and New Jersey Organizing Project, a group of residents unable to return to their homes 21/2 years after Hurricane Sandy.

Some chanted "Liar," while members of the Organizing Project stood outside their red, white, and blue bus, on which they had draped a sign that read, "Resign now."

Christie has drawn the ire of teachers' unions for reneging on his commitment to fully fund the state pension system, among other reasons.

During his speech, Christie touted his record in New Jersey, which he said included recovery from Sandy.

But outside, Joe Karcz, who has moved 13 times since Sandy and has followed the governor to various town-hall events across the country, held a sign that read, "Remember us?"

In April 2014, Karcz took a mold-covered ball cap to a Christie town hall meeting in Brick and asked for more rental assistance.

"We want him to do something or get out of the way," Karcz said Tuesday.

Closer to the gymnasium, the line for guest check-in wound through the parking lot. Invitations had gone to supporters via e-mail.

Supporters filed into the gymnasium, holding "Christie 2016 Telling It Like It Is" posters and circling the lectern in the center of the floor.

"They know how to craft a room," said Matthew Hale, a Seton Hall University political science professor in the crowd. "Eight hundred people will look like 10,000."

Frank Barone, 63, a retiree from Short Hills, praised Christie for capping annual property tax increases at 2 percent. "For that I'm eternally grateful," he said.

Barone, who said he had attended several Christie meetings, said the governor is "terrific on his feet."

"He doesn't sound like a typical politician, although we all know he is," he said.

Barone acknowledged Christie is in a tough fight for the GOP nomination, citing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich as two strong potential rivals.

Renee Czarnecki of South Hackensack was a fan of Christie's blunt persona: "He's not afraid to say what he's thinking and feeling at the time," said Czarnecki, who owns a music store with her husband. "The average person, I think, can relate to that."

Christie pledged to do as much on Tuesday.

"I mean what I say and I say what I mean, and that's what America needs right now," he said.


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Inquirer staff writer Maddie Hanna contributed to this article.