New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, accustomed to friendly audiences at his town-hall meetings, drew at least a half-dozen hecklers in Mount Laurel today as a new poll showed his popularity waning.
All were escorted from the YMCA gymnasium and Christie continued answering other audience members’ questions. The 51-year-old Republican apologized for the disruptions.
“What we’re going to do is answer people’s questions -- not when they yell and scream like that,” he said.
The governor, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, has used the town halls to highlight the response to the 2012 Hurricane Sandy that earned him record approval ratings from New Jersey voters as he sought re-election. He beat his Democratic opponent in November by 22 percentage points.
Christie’s popularity across the U.S. has fallen to 32 percent, according to a Bloomberg National Poll conducted March 7-10. It was 50 percent in June, about two months before a senior aide sent an Aug. 13 e-mail saying it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” and the closing of lanes to the George Washington Bridge.
The last two town halls were held in Ocean and Morris counties, which have more Republican than Democratic registered voters. The opposite is true in Burlington County, which includes Mount Laurel.
Christie started today’s town hall, his 113th as governor, with an appeal to the Democratic-controlled legislature to extend a cap on public worker unions’ interest-arbitration awards, which expires on March 31, as a way to reduce the highest property taxes in the nation.
The governor uses at least half the time during the meetings, which run about 90 minutes, to solicit and answer audience questions. Almost every time Christie scanned the room today for those with their hands raised, a heckler rose to shout at him.
Their grievances included Sandy aid and his aides’ involvement in the traffic jams. Christie told a man who appeared to be in his 20s to sit down and keep quiet, or leave. One woman asked why he had “liars” on his staff and complained about her taxes.
Each time, the audience shouted them down, and Christie continued addressing the people he called upon, with concerns including gun control, the New Jersey Supreme Court and charter schools.
As one heckler was being led from the gymnasium, Christie said they were pursuing a partisan agenda, and would get exposure from reporters who had followed them out.
“They don’t want answers from me,” he said of the hecklers. “What they want is attention.”
Christie has four rules for the town-hall gatherings, which he explains to the audience before taking their questions: wait for the microphone before speaking; identify yourself; get to the point and you won’t be treated politely if you’re rude.