When Chris Christie takes over as governor next month he will be starting on ground that has been scorched by rising unemployment, bad management by the state legislature, crushing property taxes, and fiscal bumbling.
Taking over amid one of the worst economies in 50 years, Christie has vowed to cut the fat out of the state’s bloated budget. His first task will be to snip $800 million from the state budget, an action widely expected to include state layoffs and hiring freezes.
Born in 1962 in Newark, Christie grew up in Livingston. There he became a solid high school baseball player and avid fan of Bruce Springsteen. Christie even invited “the Boss” to play at his inaugural gala, but Springsteen turned him down.
Home is also where he learned about politics. His father, Bill, a retired CPA, is a longtime Republican, while his mother, Sondra, who died in 2003, was a lifelong Democrat.
An independent woman who, according to many of Christie’s friends, taught him the value of leadership and independence, Sondra Christie was the first to encourage her son to volunteer for the campaign of a local assemblyman in his campaign for governor. That candidate, Tom Kean, became a role model for Christie.
In 1984 Christie graduated from the University of Delaware and entered law school at Seton Hall. He met his wife, Mary Pat, in his senior year at Delaware. The couple came to New Jersey, where he took a job at Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci, a law firm in Cranford, while she went to work at Cantor Fitzgerald, a financial firm on Wall Street. Christie was made partner at Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci in 1993; Mary Pat left her job after 9/11 but has recently returned to the field.
The Christies now live in Mendham with their four children.
At the law firm, Christie met his main political ally in William Palatucci, a Republican player with many political ties. The friendship served Christie well, putting him in the path of several rising Republican celebrities.
One was a senatorial hopeful named Christine Todd Whitman, for whom Christie wrote position papers in 1990.
Christie and Palatucci also coordinated George H.W. Bush’s 1992 re-election campaign in New Jersey.
In 1994 Christie won his only other elected office, as a freeholder in Morris County. The election was noted for the suits filed by the defeated incumbents alleging defamation during the primary. The suit was settled out of court and Christie became the freeholder director in 1997.
As a lawyer and lobbyist, Christie built a personal fortune worth more than $1 million, according to his income tax returns. From 1999 to 2001 he lobbied in favor of energy regulation on behalf of GPU Energy, and against consumer fraud.
Christie’s Republican connections made him a major supporter of George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign in 2000. In turn, Bush nominated Christie to be New Jersey’s chief federal prosecutor — though he had no prosecutorial experience — in 2001. His term in that post lasted until last December and was roundly seen as successful by politicians and journalists of all stripes. But at the time, Christie’s nomination was considered textbook political pandering by many, and accusations of glad-handing and corruption flew with abandon.
Christie’s term as U.S. attorney was considered a success because he did so much to fight corruption here. Christie built his reputation as a corruption buster, convicting 130 public officials, Republican and Democrat, without losing a single case. He has been applauded by Democrats and Republicans for his efforts against corporate crime, human trafficking, gangs, terrorism, and polluters as well.
Despite his reputation for attacking corruption, Christie based his campaign for governor almost entirely on the economy. The campaign’s definition of corruption was all about the money and its misuse in the state and did not take his traditional tough-guy stance for specific causes unless they involved misleading the state’s taxpayers.
He faced his share of accusations as well, including his acceptance of more than $23,000 in campaign donations from a law firm that had won a lucrative federal contract during Christie’s time as U.S. attorney, and his admitted failure to report a $46,000 loan to his first assistant attorney, Michele Brown.
He also faced copyright infringement because of his unauthorized use of a clip from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”
Christie’s main campaign thrust was against bloat in the state budget. A state hiring freeze and a round of layoffs are expected, and Christie made a pledge to cut $800 million from the budget.
He also made a pledge not to raise taxes, and even to lower state income and business taxes. He has been a vocal opponent of the scale of the state Department of Environmental Protection, which he said is “killing business” with its fines and over-regulation.