Calls for Chris Christie, New Jersey’s tough talking Republican Governor, to run for president in 2012 have reached a fever pitch in recent days. Yet Sheila Y. Oliver, Speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly, says that Christie’s political style and policies have alienated New Jersey’s black population. Oliver says that when Christie is truly examined by a broader audience, others will not like what they see either.
“Sometimes it borders on vaudevillian…. I don’t think that the language that is used by this governor can be used by a head of state,” said Oliver, referring to an interview with ABC News in April, when Christie talked about the “political thugs” that run teacher’s unions in New Jersey.
“Governor Christie’s popularity amongst African-Americans does not exist,” said Oliver, who is the first African-American woman to serve as Speaker of New Jersey’s State Assembly. Oliver’s assessment of Christie’s lack of confidence amongst black voters is not just a symptom of partisan politics. Christie’s poll numbers amongst black voters in New Jersey are overwhelmingly negative. An August 17, 2011 Quinnipiac University Poll indicates that amongst black voters Christie has an 81 percent disapproval rating. Only 11 percent of the blacks surveyed viewed Christie favorably.
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Winning over black voters in New Jersey may prove to be a challenge for Governor Christie, but he does have a friend in Cory Booker, Newark’s Democratic mayor. The political allies, who are both seen as rising stars in their respective parties; have agreed to work together to reduce crime, improve New Jersey’s public school system and to enhance economic development.
The two have been referred to as ‘best frenemies’ and a political ‘odd couple’ because of the contrast between Christie’s direct style and Booker’s eloquence. Booker and Christie’s mutual goal to improve Newark’s public schools received a boost last year when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that he would donate $100 million to the northern New Jersey school district on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Newark’s public school system has been under state control since 1995. A 2011, New Jersey Department of Education review of Newark’s schools indicated that the district is improving. Citing Newark’s low graduation rate and other deficiencies, the Department of Education said that it would not consider relinquishing state control of Newark’s schools until the district receives another positive review in three years.
Governor Christie attempted to cut the budgets of urban school districts this fiscal year, leaving some observers with the impression that his interest in promoting school reform is a fallacy. “The net impact was not as bad as it could have been but he did alienate a constituency with the core proposal,” stated Professor Bridgid Harrison, of Montclair State University in New Jersey. New Jersey’s Supreme Court prevented the governor from making the cuts because they violated state civil rights case law.
Christie was forced to include an additional $500 million for education in poor school districts. Thirty-one school districts in New Jersey are known as ‘Abbott Districts’ as a result of a series of New Jersey state Supreme Court rulings.
In 1985, the Court found that the education being provided to inner city school children was inadequate and unconstitutional as a result of a lack of funding parity. Camden and Newark, two of the inner city school district’s that make up the list are some of the poorest in the nation.
Months after his inauguration Governor Christie chose not to reappoint the state’s only black Supreme Court justice. During his campaign Christie stated that he would attempt to reshape the court by nominating conservative justices. “The fact that the lone African-American was singled out to break a historic precedent left a bad taste in the mouth,” said Professor Harrison, who teaches political science and law.
Christie’s failure to reappoint Justice John E. Wallace marked the first time since 1947 that a justice was not reappointed after an initial seven-year term. According to Harrison, “Christie has alienated many, but particularly the black caucus of the state legislature. ”
Christie sought to replace Justice Wallace, with Anne M. Patterson who is white, and a resident of his hometown. “If you look at Justice Wallace’s tenure, he was a moderate” stated Speaker Oliver. “The part of the state that he hailed from is pretty conservative. His decisions reflected a middle ground. He was not on the extreme left.”
Currently, there are no black, Latino or Asian justices on New Jersey’s state Supreme Court. Causing some to wonder if diversity is a priority for Governor Christie. “If you look at his top advisors there is little diversity, race or gender,” said Professor Harrison. “It is rather apparent that he is aware of the criticism and he chooses to do nothing about it.”