By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Chris Christie is sorry.
If you don’t like him, don’t like his actions, don’t think he’s being fair, then you can get rid of him in three years, he said. He’s fine with that.
But, as he pointed out to a large crowd in Middletown Wednesday, “I got sent here to fix some awful, ugly problems.”
So when a police officer griped about having to contribute more from his paycheck into his benefits and asked Christie how he was supposed to afford to live, he answered in typical, blunt Chris Christie fashion.
“You won’t afford it. You’re going to have to make choices like everyone else makes choices,” he said. “Here’s the difference: you’re getting a paycheck.”
The ever-traveling governor held back nothing in his town hall meeting in Middletown Wednesday as he pushed his agenda and outlined a better future for New Jersey, which he said will become a model for other states.
“We’re heading in the right direction,” he said, highlighting a near 1-percent drop in the state unemployment rate in his first year.
There’s plenty more work to do, he said. For one thing, there needs to be retirement and health-benefits reforms for public employees, he said. The public sector needs to contribute more. Education needs a drastic makeover.
Speaking of education, when a woman whose husband is a teacher asked if her family should leave New Jersey because she feels teachers are being attacked by Christie, he made it clear the state’s problems are coming to other states. Good teachers, he said, should be carried into school on somebody’s shoulders and thanked for the job they do. The problem is lousy teachers and the unions protecting them who are allowed to suck from a plentiful benefits system and continue business as usual, he said.
“Teachers are not under attack,” Christie said. “The teachers’ union is under attack, and that is the difference.”
Wednesday’s town hall was, by Christie standards, a ho-hum affair, with the big man doing most of the talking and getting little pushback. But when challenged on certain moves he’s made, Christie was unapologetic.
He said he understands why people are angry, frustrated and feel like they’re getting cheated. But it’s not his fault, he said.
“Why are you mad at me? Because I’m the one who’s telling you the truth. The numbers are the numbers. I’m trying to fix it,” he said. “I am sorry I’m the guy who’s got to be here when the party’s over.”
Before he made his exit, to the sound of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising,” Christie gave a small pep talk to boost morale and perhaps offer a sliver of optimism.
“If you’re in, I’m in,” he said. “If you’re in for the fight, I’m in for the fight.”