The Star-Ledger

For Christie, More Protests, A More Visible Police Presence

Trooper's alleged town hall photos blasted as 'Nixonian'

The Star-Ledger — Tuesday, March 18, 2014

By Erin O'Neill and Jenna Portnoy / The Star-Ledger

SOUTH RIVER — Once polished and predictable, the governor's town hall meetings now have it all:

Hecklers, back talking from the audience, pugnacious responses from Chris Christie himself — and now a police controversy.

A few hours after the town hall ended in South River today, a top state Senate Democrat accused the administration of using a "Nixonian tactic", citing published reports that claimed a state trooper took pictures of protesters escorted from the meeting.

"Having undercover State Police officers taking photos of people who are exercising their right of free expression at the governor's Town Hall meeting is a Nixonian tactic that has no place in New Jersey or anywhere else in this country," state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said in a statement. "I can't imagine what rationalization the governor would have for allowing this to happen but it comes across as an act of political intimidation."

The alleged incident was reported by Politicker NJ, a political news website and by the Associated Press. The reports said a man taking photos of the protestors identified himself a member of the State Police.

Christie's spokesman referred questions to the State Police, who would not confirm or deny the reports and had no response to Weinberg's statement.

The Republican governor has held more than 100 town hall meetings with minimal visible security measures, but security has become more apparent recently.

Last week, State Police began using hand-held metal detectors to "wand" attendees as they entered a town hall event in Mount Laurel. They followed the same procedure today in Middlesex County.

In both instances, protesters interrupted the proceedings to ask Christie questions about the controversial closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September and Sandy funding issues. There were about a dozen or more in the audience today.

They rose in unison from their seats, chanting "Governor Christie, we are here to demand, you stop your corrupt uses, of Hurricane Sandy money," an apparent reference to the management of Sandy relief aid.

The Republican governor nodded his head. He crossed the floor, grabbed a bottle of water and a took a sip.

He's seen it before and had predicted he'd be heckled in his opening remarks.

"I'm a soothsayer," Christie said as police officers escorted the protesters out of St. Mary Coptic School.

"This is what they do," Christie told the audience. "They do it because they have no other choice."

Though they would not discuss the alleged picture taking, a State Police spokesman, Capt. Stephen Jones, said nothing specific precipitated the "wanding."

"The security improvements have been planned for a long time now and they have just recently been implemented as we started up a new cycle of town hall meetings," Jones said after the meeting. "It's not in response to anything else other than to improve security for everybody involved."


Some hecklers identified themselves as Rutgers University students, others as union representatives. About 15 continued their protest outside the school after police escorted them out of the building, though a Rutgers University student said more than 20 were in all in their group.

"We are here solely trying to ask and hold Christie accountable for all of the millions of dollars that Hurricane Sandy victims have not received," said Frangelin Pozo, a 21-year-old Rutgers University student from Hamilton. "How come the money is going to luxury apartments in New Brunswick but not to the victims of Sandy?"

Christie said the state chapter of the Communication Workers of America was responsible for organizing the protesters.

Pozo denied any affiliation.

Carol Gay, the president of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council, was among the protesters kicked out of the meeting.

Gay called for Christie to resign for his "abuse of power and misuse of our tax dollars."

She said she was highly offended by Christie's "attack on workers and unions."

"These are hard working people and he attacks them every day he goes out," she said.

Still, the audience was mostly polite and friendly and the governor took questions on everything from auto sales to political identity.

Christie addressed concerns over New Jersey's Motor Vehicle Commission voting to bar Tesla Motors Inc., from selling cars directly to customers.

"I'm not pushing Tesla out. The state Legislature did," he said. "I have no problem with Tesla selling directly to customers, except it's against the law in New Jersey."

He talked about problems with a major Sandy rebuilding grant program.


"I cannot guarantee you or any Sandy victim that there will be no further aggravation," he told a South Amboy resident, but, "we're getting better all the time with this."

Chris Christie and health care advocate in tense exchange at town hall During a town hall in South River Maura Colinsgru, representing the New Jersey Health Care Coalition, pleaded with Gov. Chris Christie for his administration to make it easier for uninsured New Jerseyans to sign up for the state's recently expanded Medicare program. Christie took issue with her question and said he simply disagrees with her views on Obamare and that despite his expansion of Medicare, "for someone like you it's never enough."

He fielded a question about whether he perceived himself as a conservative or a moderate.

"I don't know, how do you perceive me?," he asked the audience member, who called Christie a moderate.

"That's the beauty of me," Christie said. "Everybody looks at me and sees something different."

The governor also got in a testy exchange with a health care advocate.

Christie and Maura Collinsgru of New Jersey Citizen Action repeatedly spoke over one another as they went back and forth about the administration's efforts to connect residents to health insurance coverage through Obamacare.


Collinsgru agreed with the governor's assertions that "we've expanded Medicaid" but, she said, "the marketplace people need to connect. And that's almost 400,000 of them who qualify for subsidies. We need to help them connect."

"You believe that Obamacare works and I believe it does not," Christie told Collinsgru.

Watch video from CNN (click here)

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