To the Editor: RKR on Christie — Shabby, Tasteless

Usually NJBIA welcomes an opportunity to share its views on business-related issues in New Jersey. However, if we had known that the subject of the gubernatorial transition would be treated in such a shabby tabloid style as in your December 16 edition, we would have chosen not to be a part of it.

The front page photo and headlines and inside column by Richard K. Rein were offensive and did nothing to enlighten readers about the issues confronting Governor-elect Chris Christie. The cover’s undue focus on his physical appearance is inappropriate and tasteless. We have come to expect much higher standards from U.S. 1 and we are very disappointed.

Philip Kirschner

President, New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA)

Along with many other fair-minded Princeton area residents, I was deeply offended by your thinly veiled attack on Chris Christie via his weight. Although it is well-known that U.S. 1 is a partisan Democrat-oriented publication and its “sour grapes” frame of mind is understandable when the incumbent Democrat governor was not re-elected, the “below the belt” (pardon the phrase) assault was beyond inexcusable.

Are you aware that the star of one of the season’s premier movies “Precious” is an overweight teenager? The message, of course, is that being “fat” and achievement are not mutually exclusive.

The odious highlighting of Mr. Christie’s weight is nothing less than a form of political schadenfreude unworthy of your publication. In the interests of fairness and journalistic objectivity you should have also noted that weight problems and budgetary challenges afflict politicians on both sides of the political aisle, not only statewide but locally as well.

Beverly T. Elston

Quarry Street, Princeton

I am an avid reader of U.S. 1 for countless years, enjoy it very much, and frequently clip articles from the paper. Before I get to my comments I will tell you that I am a 66-year-old retired lawyer weighing 140 pounds and have never had a weight problem. Nor am I politically active, but I am a conservative, and my wife and I did vote for the governor-elect.

You really blew it with the December 16 cover and your editorial. My complaints would fall into all three categories. I add that the cover was in poor taste and insulting. Your comparison with Corzine and his failure to wear a seat belt limps very badly. Christie’s weight problem is in the nature of a medical problem while failure to wear a seat belt is a careless and dangerous act. Your description of your piece as “light-hearted efforts” does not cut it with me.

I cannot remember another column or cover where you held someone up to ridicule. I will continue to read your paper and no, I do not wish you to make fun of a Democrat in the same vein that you used with Christie. Happy New Year.

Bill Bolan

Editor’s note: Other negative views of Rein’s column on Christie’s weight were posted as comments to the Internet version of the story at www.princetoninfo.com. A reader named Eric wrote that “U.S. 1 should take an example from the comic book titled ‘U.S. 1’ and cease publishing. There is nothing business-y or entertaining about telling an elected official to lose weight instead of oh, doing something about the bad times in which we live.

“If you want to do anything about ‘dysfunction in New Jersey’ you should perhaps start with the way you treat people in the media.”

An online reader named Kay took a dim view of Rein’s suggestion that the new governor announce how much he weighs and then ask other residents fighting a weight problem to join him in the battle. “It is none of your damn business. Why is it such a pressing matter that one man is overweight? Why in the hell do you care, and, more importantly, why would you write an article about it? Is your point that people will look up to the governor and say ‘well, he’s fat, so it’s fine if I am’?

“I cannot believe this was published. Maybe you, Richard K. Rein, should become a physical trainer — that way you can critique the weight of people who want you to.”

One online reader who had the courage to use his full name and provide his phone number was Howard Tabachnick of North Brunswick. His comment: “The front page of the current issue is remarkably offensive. I can only assume that the editor and staff at U.S. 1 are Democrats offended by the fact that the new governor is a Republican.”

To the Editor: RKR on Christie — Spot On Straight Talk

I have to admit that when I first read your front page of U.S. 1 in the lobby of my Princeton Junction office, I was a little taken aback by the sarcastic headline double entendre regarding the weight of our newly elected governor. This was BEFORE I took the time to read Richard K. Rein’s article, however.

After careful review, (in fact I read it twice) I realized that you were “spot on” with your advice. Your comments were not meant as a partisan crack, but rather more of a “sobering” observation and helpful advice for our new governor. Let’s face it, being governor of “any” state is difficult, but New Jersey will take every bit of strength to help turn things around.

I am a sales manager for AI Technology Inc. and because of my job travel frequently. If I simply sat in planes and rental cars and ate big meals with my expense account, I would be heavier than Christie. I make it a point to exercise each morning at a local gym. Once I get this out of the way, it wakes me up, gives me energy, and I don’t even need coffee! In the summer I actually ride my bicycle some days to work from my home in Franklin Park along the canal route. I am 52 years old and am often told I look like I am in my mid-30s.

So here is my challenge to Governor Chris Christie: If you really want to lose weight and stay healthy and go for your second full term weighing 50 pounds less, send me an E-mail and I will work out WITH you!

I really want Governor Christie to succeed — not just because I voted for him, but because we need to turn this state around, get jobs back, motivate companies to do business here, and make New Jersey the state it once was when I grew up here in the 1950s and ’60s.

And most of all I really want to thank Mr. Rein for the STRAIGHT TALK! This country is so full of “overly sensitive” people afraid to give good advice and criticism. Losing weight and eating right can save someone’s life! Why not tell somebody the truth. It hurts a little to hear it the first time, but just imagine if it gets you angry enough to make a change in your life for the better. Maybe this time next year, you can run a similar front page picture with a thinner, healthier governor! Hopefully by then our state will also be healthier and ready for new challenges.

Richard Amigh

P.S.: Bill Clinton could have afforded to lose a few pounds as well. So as everyone should understand: This is a health and stamina issue and very important for the future of our country. I have been influenced by Asians I work with now and also during past business trips to Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. Their stretching and walking regimens each day and their diets, high in fish and vegetables and few deep-fried choices, should be studied carefully. They typically live a much longer and healthier life than most Americans.

U.S. 1 also received an E-mail from another reader who provided a less formal snapshot of the governor taken from behind. The caption was “Christie shows his best side” and the accompanying message read as follows: “Don’t you think he knows he’s fat? Someone who looks like this in the public eye should take a more responsible stand and take care of his health. Why not challenge the New Jersey population to a weight loss throwdown led by Christie himself? Now that’s something I could get ‘behind’.”

The writer, who works in commercial real estate, added another thought: “Sorry: if you’re in the public eye, nothing is off-limits anymore.”

Richard K. Rein Responds

I feel somewhat like a guest on one of the cable television political talk shows (could be either a liberal show or a conservative one) who has tried to make a point and then seen the point disappear amid a fusillade of political name-calling.

In my case I was trying to make the point that, amid all the other serious challenges facing the governor, he has one challenge that is shared by many residents: the battle of the bulge. Making his weight battle public could be a significant teaching moment and inspiration for the rest of us.

Of course, if the governor-elect is distracted by his weight as much as some of our readers then — I must agree — we are all in trouble. As U.S. 1’s December 16 issue pointed out, the governor has many challenges. The one that struck me most, as a small business owner, was the approaching bankruptcy of New Jersey’s unemployment trust fund.

We at U.S. 1 pay into the system, of course, just as all other companies do. In addition, we compete with the system for employees, especially potential delivery people who often choose not to work because it would disrupt their unemployment payments.

That’s right, we compete with unemployment. In New Jersey the system pays up to $584 a week, and — if I understand it correctly — can last up to 79 weeks. Older workers, especially, who have been thrust out of jobs after long careers, certainly cherish these benefits as they attempt to re-tool and get back to work. But what are our limits?

The new governor will need to address the unemployment fund, according to the experts polled in our December 16 issue. What will he do to bring the fund into balance? That’s an important question, and to address it in a letter to the editor requires some knowledge as well as a facile turn of phrase. Not surprisingly we did not get any letters on that issue.

So I will agree that we shouldn’t be distracted. But I will also assert that the governor should be able to multi-task. His fitness challenge is just like ours: We have to incorporate healthy diets and physical activities into daily schedules that often make both dieting and exercise difficult.

The consequences of his challenge are far greater than those of any small business owner. He runs a state with an annual budget of $29 billion (and a projected $1 billion deficit). Bristol-Myers Squibb has annual revenues of about $20 billion. Continuity is important for any leader, and some people (including me, as I wrote in the original column) would like to see Christie do so well in these difficult times that he wins re-election and has a chance to follow through on his policies. But to do that he needs to be healthy, not just in the near term but also for the long haul.

And if Christie’s weight is a medical problem, as one reader above suggests it could be, then we as voters deserve to know the facts of his condition: How serious is it, what steps are being taken to treat it, what are the chances it will affect his ability to govern, etc. We would expect the same questions to be asked if the governor had coronary heart disease, to pick an example close to this writer.

But perhaps weight is the final taboo subject in politics. In the recent past the press has delved into the sexual escapades of politicians from the White House (Bill Clinton) to the South Carolina State House; the bathroom habits of a United States senator (do you recall Larry Craig’s “wide stance” in the airport men’s room that brought him into contact with the undercover agent in the adjoining stall?); and even the mental health of an acting governor’s wife (Mary Jo Codey, wife of state senator Richard Codey, went public with her illness).

Those who think that the liberal press reserves its condemnation for conservative politicians must have forgotten the field day the media had when Governor Jim McGreevey proclaimed himself a “gay American” and resigned from office.

Maybe some people believe that McGreevey chose his gay behavior and could have and should have done something about it. Christie, on the other hand, was pre-ordained to be hefty and is powerless to do anything about it.

Maybe. But in the interests of our state and of small business owners everywhere, can we get back to the question of that unemployment trust fund: What’s going to happen?

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