PARSIPPANY — Gov. Chris Christie took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and warned the crowd: This, he said, is when his explosive town hall moments happen.
He waded into Parsippany Friday — the epicenter of his battle with school superintendents. He appeared to be looking for a fight.
And he got it.
The Parsippany town hall, his 15th such event, proved to be the governor’s most explosive yet. There were robust challenges to his economic and education policies from all sides, catcalls, heckling, and three people were removed by the police. And despite of all of that, or because of it, he ended the night with an ovation.
Keith Chaudruc, of Madison, got the final question of the night.
The Livingston school district elementary teacher launched into a list of complaints about drops in municipal aid, increasing NJ Transit fares and tax cuts for those making more than $1 million.
His question: How could Christie sign off on a tax cut for the most wealthy, ignoring the regressive nature of the sales tax, while those at the bottom were getting squeezed with increases like the transit fares?
The two adversaries went back and forth for a few minutes, until Chaudruc, a Republican, interrupted the governor.
“You want to come up here?” Christie shouted. “You come up here … Let’s have a conversation..”
Chaudruc, who stands 5’6″ and weighs about 160 pounds, backed away until the governor insisted “bring him up here,” and a state trooper escorted him to the stage.
Christie, a few inches taller and several pounds heavier, loomed over Chaudruc as he launched into a tirade.
“Your wonderful increase in taxes would have killed jobs in this state,” Christie said pointing his index finger at Chaudruc. “You and I have different ideas of what being a Republican is all about because I’m not going to raise taxes.”
Before he could get another word in, Chaudruc was ushered off the stage and out of the room by a trooper.
“It’s his playground. He holds the ball,” Chaudruc said afterward, adding that Christie never answered his question.
Christie spent the first hour delivering virtually the same speech he does at every event: ridiculing the Democratic controlled Legislature, praising the work of his administration and talking about the need to pass his proposed “tool kit.”
Then he moved into the question and answer section. In his opening remarks Christie made it clear that he is well aware that the theater he creates during the town hall exchanges has made him an online celebrity.
Nearly half of the questions posed to him provoked heated banter between Christie and the questioner. The crowd of about 250, comprised largely of the governor’s supporters, seemed to know the eruption was coming.
Christie has been publicly feuding with Parsippany-Troy Hills Superintendent Leroy Seitz since he renegotiated his contract to push his salary to $216,040 in advance of the impending $175,000 cap set to go into affect Feb. 7. Christie called the contract “the definition of greed and arrogance” and Seitz “the new poster boy for all that’s wrong with the public school system.”
Seitz, whose contract remains in legal limbo, was not there.
But Jonathan Chatinover, a Chatham School Board member, showed up in defense of the contract his district just issued in excess of the cap, carrying a hand-made sign reading “Christie to Chatham: Drop Dead.”
“Why don’t you allow us to do our job and pay the superintendent a market rate for the excellent job he is doing?” Chatinover asked.
Christie argued that he was defending the taxpayers and that by moving between school districts, superintendents are driving up their own pay.
“It’s inflated artificial market value that they create themselves amongst themselves,” Christie responded.
Chatinover stormed out.
“Leave the well performing districts alone,” he said afterward. “Deal with the state run schools like Newark and leave it up to the tax payers.”
Judy Mayer, president of the Parsippany teacher’s union, took a turn at the microphone to chastise Christie for his claim that his efforts were “for the children” and to combat his statement that the unions obstructed pay freezes for teachers who would have otherwise agreed.
“You’re giving an awful commentary on the teacher’s in this state,” Christie responded.
The oddest moment of the night came when a Haworth woman took the microphone to ask Christie to help her get her house back after being evicted by federal marshals.
Anticipating her question, Christie told her it was a federal matter and to leave the microphone. After she was moved to the side another man approached the microphone and began to shout about the same issue.
The woman and man stood next to the microphone shouting for several minutes until police escorted them from the building.