By TOM HESTER Jr. of The Associated Press
TRENTON – The Republican called state lawmakers cowardly and petty. He called for courageous leadership in the state Capitol. He demanded New Jerseyans oust crooked politicians.
To many observers, it sounded like U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, long rumored a future candidate for New Jersey governor, was delivering a campaign speech. Christie blasted state senators for blocking New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s nomination of state Attorney General Stuart Rabner as Supreme Court chief justice. “This is typical rotten politics in Trenton that people across this state are tired of,” Christie on Wednesday told members of the 200 Club of Mercer County, which raises money for the families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
Rabner once worked with Christie in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Christie insisted he was defending a friend – not laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial run in 2009. “It’s not about politics,” Christie said.
Some observers weren’t so sure.
“I think this, to me, sounded like a speech that was in the realm of politics,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen.
“It (the speech) was a defining moment for Chris Christie,” said David Rebovich, a Rider University political scientist.
Christie, a former top fundraiser for President Bush, was tapped in 2001 to be New Jersey’s federal prosecutor. But because U.S. attorneys are appointed by the president, Christie’s stint as U.S. Attorney might end when President Bush leaves office in January 2009. Since taking office, Christie has convicted 108 public officials in New Jersey on corruption charges in five years and he’s played a pivotal role in terrorism investigations, including the recent arrests of six men charged in a plot to attack soldiers at Fort Dix.
Christie, 44, is a former county lawmaker, but has never sought or held a statewide elected office. Despite rampant speculation, he has not said he wants to run for governor. “If you listen to all of the prognosticators, I’ve been running for governor since 2002, and there’s been an election in between which I didn’t run for, and when I wasn’t running for governor I was running for United States Senate and I haven’t run for that either,” he said.
Rebovich called Christie’s speech “a broad-based attack by the U.S. Attorney on the political establishment,” which he said is “somewhat unusual” for a federal prosecutor. “He said that the state needs leadership who will espouse the truth when presented with circumstances where people are being treated unfairly,” Rebovich said. “Chris Christie acted precisely like the leader he is calling for.”
During his speech and talking to reporters after it, Christie criticized Corzine, a Democrat, for not taking a stronger stand on the Rabner dispute. He also said it was “absolutely cowardly” for the Democrats not to schedule a hearing on Rabner’s nomination. “My view on this is that this is the typical pettiness and garbage that people have been subjected to in Trenton, where people are allowed to hold dual offices, where people are allowed to act with multiple motives, where people are allowed to continue a culture of corruption and no one is standing up and saying enough to it,” Christie said.
Weinberg said senators also shouldn’t be expected to give up their rights to oppose nominations. She said it was “inappropriate” for Christie to concern himself with Senate matters and decried what she called “disparaging” comments toward senators. “To demean them is to demean himself,” Weinberg said.
Rebovich said Christie, with his speech, did nothing to quell speculation he may run for higher office.
“You couldn’t help but recognize that Christie was calling for better leadership in New Jersey politics,” Rebovich said.