WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
In front of a standing-room-only audience, the blunt style of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went over big at the Brookings Institute in Washington on Monday.
He had a short answer for one audience member who asked Christie if he would support more federal aid to the states to help bolster local governments who have suffered during the Great Recession: Thanks, but no thanks.
"The fact of the matter is, I have more government employees per square mile than any state in America," Christie said. "Please don't send me any money to hire any more public employees. I don't need anymore. They are extraordinarily expensive and extraordinarily difficult to manage."
Instead, Christie painted the picture of a Garden State on the economic rebound with private sector job creation on the upswing. He said that 85,000 private sector jobs created since he's been in office.
This exchange characterized Christie's trip to Brookings - his speech was billed as an opportunity for the governor to describe how he has used a bipartisan approach to restoring the state's 'fiscal integrity and accountability.'
Christie told the audience about his battle with the state's teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, throughout the first two years of his term. He said they had spent millions on an ad campaign blasting Christie tenure's reform plan. He says he stood his ground.
He also credited New Jersey's Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Shelia Oliver with helping him achieve a number of priorities. On his list: Public employee pension reform, a major reorganization of the state's system of higher education and a rewriting of the state's teacher tenure law, which Christie said restores accountability to the state's public education system.
"Guess what happened? The teachers union came to the table and we negotiated New Jersey's tenure law, which is over a hundred years old," he said. "We are putting accountability back into the system."
Christie contrasted the "progress" he and reform-minded Democrats have made in New Jersey using "principled compromise" with a Federal government mired in partisan gridlock.
"Hopefully this infection of compromise will eventually spread here," he said, referring to Washington D.C. "I am not nearly as hopeful of that as I am that it will spread to the states."
Christie said the time was long past for the country's political leaders to be honest with the American people about the nation's fiscal situation.
"You can't lead by being a mystery . You can't lead by being an enigma. you can't lead by being aloof. You can't lead being programmed. You have to lead by being yourself and who you are. And than people will trust you. And when they trust you they will follow you."
Back in New Jersey, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald dismissed Christie's Brookings appearance as "his Tampa Try-Out Tour." Greenwald said there was more to the New Jersey story than Christie presented.
"Property taxes that are now a net $7,519, compared to $6,244 in 2009, a 20 percent increase since Christie took office," Greenwald wrote in a statement. "New Jerseyans are suffering under Gov. Christie’s policies, yet he seems more interested in auditioning for another job. The governor’s attention needs to be on middle-class tax relief and fixing the policies that have hurt New Jersey’s middle-class, not on his personal ambitions."