CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) - One of New Jersey’s most powerful Democrats is standing behind Gov. Chris Christie as the Republican’s administration deals with scandal.
“In my lifetime, there has never been a governor of any party who has worked harder or more diligently to help south Jersey, the city of Camden,” said Norcross, whose family’s foundation is one of the partners in creating the school. “You are our friend. You will be our friend.”
The words seemed to take Christie aback a bit.
And they came only after Norcross, an insurance executive, part owner of the company that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer, and hospital board chairman who has no public office or official title in the southern New Jersey Democratic Party he’s seen as leading, turned the event into a roast for Christie.
He boasted about Democrats retaining their majorities in both houses of the state Legislature last year and how he texted the governor as the Dallas Cowboys - Christie’s favorite football team - lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in December.
And he teased Christie about the scandal that has embroiled his administration for two months: last September’s politically motivated closing of lanes near the George Washington Bridge.
“There’s one thing the governor, with all his power, has not been able to achieve,” Norcross said. “I’m the one that’s able to shut down a bridge.” He was referring to a charity run he sponsors each November on the Ben Franklin Bridge between south Jersey and Philadelphia.
Christie was in a room full of Camden-area dignitaries for the ceremonial groundbreaking - held indoors because of cold weather outside - for the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy.
The $45 million school, which is to have its first students next fall in a temporary space, is the first of up to 12 so-called renaissance schools created under a state law championed by Norcross and signed by Christie. The schools are to be run and built by nonprofit groups. Unlike the state’s existing charter schools, they will have contracts with the local traditional public school districts.
KIPP is a network of 141 charter schools across the country. They feature longer school days and school years than most schools and are known for frequent and intensive progress assessments of how students are doing.
Camden, near Philadelphia, has long been one of the nation’s most impoverished and crime-ridden cities.
A procession of governors have boosted money for schools and sent in state troopers to help with crime. Under Gov. Jim McGreevey in 2003, the state allocated Camden $175 million for infrastructure upgrades and matching money for expansions of colleges and hospitals, and also partially took over the city government.
Norcross said after Wednesday’s ceremony that Christie has done more good. He cited a new county-run police force, the opening of the medical school in the city, a broad new system of business incentives and helping bring a cancer center to the hospital whose board Norcross runs.
Christie, like other governors before him, said Wednesday that the city’s health is one of his top priorities, and he’s focusing on education and public safety.