Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Townsfolk Feel Ignored by Christie

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Townsfolk Feel Ignored by Christie

Article excerpt

The city of Garfield is confronting a fatal police shooting, a troubled school system and toxic chemicals seeping into people's homes. Governor Christie came here Wednesday to talk tax cuts and to pressure a reluctant Legislature into passing more of his agenda.

Some Garfield residents -- not a single one called on by Christie to ask a question during an event billed as a town hall -- were left wondering why their town's issues went unanswered.

The governor has held dozens of such meetings billed as town halls in community centers, schools and other venues outside of the State House since taking office in early 2010. Christie uses these events to both sell his message directly to constituents and interact with them on a personal level.

The Republican governor used Wednesday's event -- and the attention it drew -- to urge legislators to take action on his plans for tax cuts, teacher tenure reform, limits on public employee sick- time payouts and changes to the criminal justice system.

Christie has pushed all of those issues for months, but on Wednesday added a 60-day clock for lawmakers to agree. That's how much time the Democratic-controlled Legislature has to approve a state budget and Christie's call for a 10 percent income tax cut.

The governor then took six questions from the crowd of about 300 in the city's recreation center on issues ranging from bullying to library funding.

None were Garfield residents, which troubled Shirley Williams, the mother of the city teen shot by police in December during a confrontation after he fled the city's police station.

"He didn't even look my way," Williams said in disbelief after the meeting.

Williams and her attorney, Victor Urbaez, both raised their hands when Christie called for questions from the crowd.

"We came to address our concerns to the governor and perhaps request an independent investigator to look into the matter," Urbaez said. "We were not picked, and it's disappointing."

As the meeting let out, Williams, Urbaez and several others launched a small protest, with chants likening the Williams case to the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

"People are taking off work. They're rearranging their schedules [to attend]," said Bryan Walensky, a candidate in next week's City Council election. "We welcome everyone into the community, but at the same time we deserve respect."

Walensky, a Democrat, called Christie's visit "partisan politics," noting the governor's criticism during the meeting of the Assembly Democrats.

"We don't care," Walensky said. "We have other issues affecting our community."

One of those issues not discussed is the contentious City Council campaign, which this week included a shouting match among candidates over a disputed political flier. Another is the Superfund site named last year that covers a neighborhood of approximately 600 homes and businesses in the city where chromium, a cancer-causing industrial chemical, has been found. …

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