November 6, 2013

WASHINGTON COULD USE A DOSE:

Christie's strategy of wooing key Democrats pays off big ( CHARLES STILE, 11/05/13, NorthJersey.com)

Christie's bold leadership during Superstorm Sandy, the shrewd marketing of his Jersey tough guy persona and several important legislative accomplishments are indeed important factors in the strong support for his reelection. But while the public was seeing all of that, Christie discreetly and methodically courted Democrats with every lever of power at his disposal. By the end, many of those Democrats would supply the manpower, money or simply the photo ops for his campaign.

Long before Buono entered a race that no other Democratic contender wanted to come near, Christie had already won the campaign. While the cameras and the social-media feeds and the political pundits focused on Christie's forceful personality, his often over-the-top comments and his welcoming embrace of President Obama after Sandy, Christie was planting the seeds for his own reelection, Demo­cratic mayor by Democratic mayor, Democratic boss by Democratic boss, Demo­cratic union leader by Democratic union leader. As the ancient Chinese military tome "The Art of War" noted, "Every battle is won before it is fought."

Christie won the unofficial support -- and admiration -- of George Norcross, the South Jersey insurance executive and the state's most powerful Democrat, by carrying out an overhaul of the state's higher education system that poured more money into that region. He wooed Democratic-allied construction unions by financing massive transportation projects and backing tax incentives for long-dormant mega-projects in Atlantic City and the Meadowlands. He used his clout to secure approvals for large Port Authority of New York and New Jersey projects in Democratic towns.

By the end of this campaign, Demo­crats not only endorsed Christie, they lavished him with praise, eager to demonstrate their fealty and well aware that the chances of intraparty punishment were nil. Union City Mayor Brian Stack, who is also a state senator, gave Christie a hero's welcome -- and a parade. Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura took the unusual step of vigorously defending Christie's debate performance.

And although Cory Booker formally endorsed Buono, Booker, the state's most popular Democrat, publicly praised Christie during a Newark supermarket groundbreaking. It was Booker's first public event after winning the U.S. Senate seat last month. Events with Buono would have to wait.

But Christie's early, old-school "outreach" worked to divide, conquer and dilute the power of the state's ruling Democrats. Despite the party's power on paper -- 700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans and majority control of both houses of the Legislature -- Christie's strategy exploited its divisions and realized its vaunted machinery put power and self-preservation ahead of partisan loyalty.

Christie revived the transactional, political dynamic that vanished during the rocky tenure of Corzine, his predecessor. Legislators and mayors -- who care more about obtaining environmental permits and road project funding and financing for community clubhouses -- fumed at Corzine's clumsy deal-making and his CEO-like aloofness.

Christie recognized the post-Corzine hunger among the political class for a governor's office willing to listen and deal. It made many officials easy prey for Christie's entreaties.

"Jon Corzine continues to haunt the Democratic Party," said state Sen. Ray Lesniak, a Union County Democrat.

Christie reopened the governor's office, but with an implied "you're either with me or against me" ethos. Those who worked with him -- by keeping a low profile, voting for parts of his agenda or even endorsing his reelection -- could count on getting their phone calls returned and their needs addressed. Those who criticized risked being locked out.

For some Democrats, it was an easy decision. They saw no advantage in tangling with a governor whose popularity only seemed to soar with every attack on sewerage authority bureaucrats, teacher union leaders and the occasional mayor, like Atlantic City's Lorenzo Langford, one of the few big-city mayors who openly clashed with Christie.

"Mayors now feel they have a voice in Trenton," said one Democratic mayor, who declined to be identified for fear of alienating some intraparty allies. "Why did we want to change that?"

Posted by at November 6, 2013 8:04 PM
  

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