New Jersey Governor Chris Christie drew laughs at a Jewish community center in Montville recently as he explained the secret behind his 27-year marriage: his bond-trader wife. The governor often boasts that thanks to Mary Pat Christie’s high earnings—she made $307,372 in 2011—he was able to give up practicing law and enter politics.
While most governors’ spouses opt for volunteerism over high-powered professions, Ms. Christie has quietly redefined the role of a governor’s wife over the last three years of her husband’s first term. She juggles raising four children (a nanny helps out part time) while working full time as a managing director at Angelo Gordon, an investment firm in New York. She also oversees what’s become a $33 million Hurricane Sandy relief charity. “I’ve always been the breadwinner,” the 49-year-old Christie says. “I really just wanted him to be happy in his career, and he is.” (Not that a New Jersey governor’s $175,000 salary is chump change.)
The Christies met at the University of Delaware. Chris, a year older, was student body president during his senior year. Mary Pat ran for the job next and became the first female president in 14 years. “She led more by listening, by understanding situations, by developing really good decisions, and Chris was much more of an ‘I’ve got the answer!’ type,” recalls Timothy Brooks, the dean of students at the time.
Mary Pat went on to earn an MBA from Seton Hall University and was attracted to bond trading, a male-dominated field. She previously worked for JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Fleet Securities, Cantor Fitzgerald, and Mendham Capital Management, a boutique firm she co-founded.
Last fall, she reached out to her bond-desk contacts for help after her husband surveyed the devastation left after Hurricane Sandy and asked her to start raising money. She set up a nonprofit relief fund, recruited Bono and Bruce Springsteen to drum up contributions, and asked for donated office space and ads. Christie’s employer allowed her to take 90 days of paid leave to raise the money for Sandy; she was back in 60.
The fund hadn’t distributed any money as of mid-March—a contrast with the New York-based Robin Hood Foundation, which had given out $55 million. That’s a sore point for some shore residents who told the Asbury Park Press they want help now, not later. Critics “have no sense of the enormity of what we’re doing and the responsibility of managing $33 million of assets,” Mary Pat says. “I want to purposely keep the expenses low, so if it takes us a little longer to get the money out there, I think, in the long run, since the victims will receive more of the money, it will have been a good decision.”
Christie says it’s been her goal “to define the role of first lady in a way that I could manage it, and a way that I could still do my job, that provides for my family, and that I find interesting.” She flirted with retirement after having her fourth child in 2003, but her employer at the time agreed to let her work part time and partly from home. After her husband’s election, Christie pushed for the family to remain in their Mendham Township home rather than move to the governor’s mansion in Princeton so the kids wouldn’t have to switch schools.
In his Montville speech, Governor Christie described how a buddy once asked whether being outearned by his wife was emasculating. “Listen,” Christie said he replied, “I just have three words for you: joint checking account. That money all lands in the same place, baby.” Brigid Harrison, a professor of law and politics at Montclair State University, says that if Christie runs for the White House in 2016, Republican advisers might tell Mary Pat to soften her role as the breadwinner and stress what makes her a more traditional supportive spouse. “That would be appealing in those staunchly conservative states in the middle of the country,” Harrison says. But for now, it suits the governor just fine.