Tuesday’s celebrations to mark the start of Gov. Chris Christie’s second term could be tempered by multiple investigations into traffic tie-ups that appear to have been ordered by his staff for political retribution and an allegation that his administration tied Superstorm Sandy aid to approval for a real estate project.
But the 55th governor of New Jersey has a full schedule of inaugural events.
His day is scheduled to start with a service at Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church before a swearing in and address in Trenton and an evening party on Ellis Island, a symbolic spot synonymous with the promise of the United States. The island where some 12 million immigrants first entered the U.S. is divided between New Jersey and New York, but his party is to be in a hall on the New York side.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who was drawn into the controversy surrounding Christie this weekend, is also to be sworn in for her second term.
Christie won re-election in November by a 22-point margin over state Sen. Barbara Buono, a Democrat.
The Republican governor built a national following as a blunt-talking and often funny politician who strived to show that he could find common ground with Democrats on some key issues, including overhauling the state’s public-worker pension program and making it easier to fire teachers who are found to be underperforming.
Christie became a fixture in speculation about who would seek the 2016 presidential nomination with his leadership after Superstorm Sandy slammed into his state in October 2012.
He worked with President Barack Obama and took on Republican members of Congress who were reluctant to approve aid for storm victims, receiving high marks from his constituents and plentiful national attention.
But his reputation has been battered somewhat since revelations this month that a staffer ordered two of three approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge from the town of Fort Lee shut down for four days in September apparently as political retribution against the mayor there, perhaps for not endorsing Christie for re-election.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and two state legislative committees are now investigating.
Christie has apologized, denied any involvement with or knowledge of the plot and fired a deputy chief of staff at the center of the controversy. But questions have continued.
Christie’s administration also faces an allegation from the Democratic mayor of Hoboken that it tied the delivery of Superstorm Sandy aid to the low-lying city of 50,000 across from Manhattan to support for a prime real estate project.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer said that she was told by Guadagno that the ultimatum came directly from Christie. Guadagno strongly denied those claims Monday and described them as “false” and “illogical.”
“Any suggestion that Sandy funds were tied to the approval of any project in New Jersey is completely false,” she said.
Also on Monday, nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis said Christie dropped a plan to appoint him the state’s first physical fitness ambassador when he launched a political campaign against a Christie friend. Christie’s administration hasn’t returned an email seeking comment.
In his re-election campaign, Christie did not make big new promises, but said he would continue to work on recovery from Sandy, seek tax cuts and push for other previous priorities with which the Democrat-controlled Legislature has not been willing to go along.
Christie has not ruled out a 2016 presidential run.
But last week in an event with storm victims in Manahawkin, he emphasized his New Jersey roots and the task before him as governor.
“Come next Tuesday, I’ve only got about 1,400 days to go as governor. We’ve got plenty of time to get this job done,” he said. “You asked me and I accepted the task of leading this state for eight years, not four years.”
The $500 tickets to the inaugural celebration and other contributions will be used to help support three charities: Save Ellis Island, The New Hope Baptist Church and New Jersey Heroes, which was founded by first lady Mary Pat Christie.