- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) - Gov. Chris Christie returned to Camden on Wednesday to tout gains he says the city has made including a reduction in crime and improvements in education and economic development.

Standing with local officials in Elijah Perry Park, Christie said the accomplishments in the long-impoverished city are palpable.

“I know we have lots more work to do, but there’s no penalty for standing up and appreciating what’s already happened, even when there’s more work to be done,” Christie told the audience. “We need every once and a while to remind ourselves that we’re making progress and that things are going better.”

That includes more officers patrolling city streets and early signs of progress, including sharp reductions in crime since the city replaced its police force with one run by the county in 2012.

Police Chief John Scott Thomson said the city reported a 30-year record low in violent crime this summer, with murders cut by more than half since 2012.

Christie, who is mulling a run for president in 2016, has made frequent stops in the city, often stressing his efforts working with local Democratic lawmakers, including Mayor Dana Redd and state Sen. Donald Norcross.

On Wednesday, he acknowledged he’d been to Camden more often than any other city in New Jersey and had watched the changes unfold firsthand.

Some in the audience expressed frustration the governor didn’t address the issue of housing during his remarks. After, some local residents who’d gathered complained about conditions in the neighborhood, including a lack of play space for kids and poor housing conditions.

“There’s nobody who can help us,” said Sophia Green, 46, who complained about roaches and bed bugs.

Later, the Republican governor made a visit to the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy’s Revolution Primary school, where he spent time in a preschool classroom and was quizzed by eager 5-years-olds about his favorite snacks. The school, which is now operating out of temporary trailers, is expected to move to a building across the street in 2015, Executive Director Drew Martin said.

The $45 million school is the first of up to 12 so-called renaissance schools created under a state law. The schools are to be run and built by nonprofit groups. But unlike the state’s existing charter schools, they have contracts with the local traditional public school districts.

Christie ended his day with a pep talk to the members of the Camden High football team, who asked him to build them new bleachers and a field house.

Christie said he plans to return to the city one Friday evening to catch one of their games.

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