Chris Christie may have met his match. The New Jersey governor went off on a persistent heckler Wednesday at an event commemorating the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy in Belmar, New Jersey. His frustration mounting, Christie yelled at the man to “sit down and shut up,” a line that received applause from many in the crowd. Moments later, Christie's security detail succeeded in confiscating the man’s television-camera-obscuring protest sign that read “Get Sandy Families Back in Their Home / Finish the Job."
Sparring with vocal critics has become a regular part of Christie's job, but this time, the heckler, Jim Keady, isn't going away quietly.
"He’s a bully," Keady said of Christie in a phone interview hours after the confrontation. "He tries to use his bullying routine to squash dissent.” It was a message that the suddenly-in-demand Keady was preparing to spread in separate interviews scheduled with network and cable news shows. “I’m a 6-foot-4, 215-pound former pro-athlete. I’m not going to be bullied by him. And when he goes into his bullying routine, it lays bare the fact that he does not want to talk about the political realities that are being presented to him."
The 43-year-old Keady is a small businessman who runs his family’s tavern, where many of the customers are in less frequently because, Keady says, they're out of pocket from the storm damage and waiting to get back in their homes. A former Asbury Park councilman, Keady knows something about how politics works. In the 1990s, he also played pro soccer for the North Jersey Imperials as backup goalie to Tim Howard. Yes, that Tim Howard. Need more evidence that Keady isn't a shrinking violet? He's a founding director of a group called Educating for Justice, which protests working conditions at Nike factories. He was kicked out of Indonesia earlier this year for joining workers at a protest of union-busting activities at Nike’s Jakarta headquarters. He said he’s never met or heckled Christie before.
During their back and forth, Christie told Keady that “somebody like you doesn’t know a damn thing about what you’re talking about except to stand up and show off when the cameras are here. I’ve been here when the cameras aren’t here buddy, and done the work." Christie went on to tell Keady that “I’m glad you had your day to show off” and now, “turn around, get your 15 minutes of fame, and then maybe take your jacket off, roll up your sleeves and do something for the people of this state.”
But Keady is no stranger to what New Jersey has been through. He grew up in Belmar, now lives in neighboring Spring Lake, and after the storm, he said, he took a month off of work and volunteered “every day” in Belmar. “They trusted me with one of their borrowed dump trucks and I was running clean up crews all over town," Keady said. "I wanna know how many crawl spaces the governor was in, cleaning up. But he got his photo-op in Belmar.”
Keady talked about how only 20 percent of a $1.1 billion a program to get people back in their homes has actually gone out. “His administration is sitting on $800 million of taxpayer money that was supposed to go to our fellow New Jerseyans,” Keady said.
“If I’d just stood up, sat down, and been polite, you and I wouldn’t be talking right now,” Keady added. “It’s necessary at times to do small and large acts of civil disobedience so people’s voices can be heard. And if Governor Christie doesn’t like that, he’s in the wrong business.”
Keady says he's an independent voter, not beholden to Democrats or Republicans. Asked if there’s any chance he’d vote for Christie if he runs for president in 2016, he thought a minute and concluded, “No.”