Forget Looks: A Perfect ‘10’ to Christie Is a Helpful Democrat

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Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie looks on during the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on Sept. 26, 2016.

Photographer: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
  • List ranked officials on how likely they were to back Christie
  • Rating system introduced at Bridgegate trial in federal court

When it comes to deciding who ranks as a “10,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie apparently relies on different criteria than Donald Trump.

Fred Tagliarini, the mayor of Aberdeen Township, was one of just two local politicians who got the top ranking from the governor’s staff, though he had no idea until a Bloomberg News reporter called to ask for comment.

Tagliarini stands next to a piece of WTC steel, displayed on a Sept. 11 memorial, in Aberdeen, N.J.
Tagliarini stands next to a piece of WTC steel, displayed on a Sept. 11 memorial, in Aberdeen, N.J.
Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

“I’m flattered by them thinking so highly of me,” he said.

The mayor’s name turned up on a spreadsheet maintained by the Christie administration that ranked some of the state’s mayors and council members, mostly Democrats, on the likelihood they would endorse the Republican governor’s 2013 re-election. But it wasn’t just rankings. It also tracked who sat in the governor’s box for New York Giants’ and New York Jets’ games, toured the World Trade Center, attended Christie’s speeches or received gifts, like steel remnants from wreckage of the Twin Towers.

Along with the two “10s,” the list of 54 politicians includes three lowly “1s” with the rest scattered in between.

The effort to woo Democrats was part of a broader push to cast Christie, who has served as a top adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign, as a bipartisan leader and leading contender for the Republican presidential nominee. It offers a window into the way ambitious politicians use the perks of their office to schmooze local officials.

Twisted Steel

The spreadsheet was introduced as evidence in the trial of Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, former Christie allies who are accused of ordering traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, for not backing Christie’s re-election. The scandal ultimately helped to doom Christie’s presidential ambitions.

Based on the spreadsheet, at least, the governor’s office shouldn’t have been surprised by Sokolich’s decision. He was rated a “4.” He didn’t return a phone message seeking comment.

A spokesman for Christie declined to comment.

The George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J.
The George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J.
Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

The trial started Sept. 19, and Kelly is expected to begin testifying on Friday. Christie has denied knowing about the traffic plot. The governor’s staff began tracking Democratic mayors who might endorse Christie in 2011, according to trial testimony.

Among those on the list is Richard Gerbounka, who was mayor of Linden at the time. He said he toured the World Trade Center and was later offered a piece of twisted steel that’s now part of a Sept. 11 memorial at Linden City Hall. Gerbounka, an independent and a “9,” said he wasn’t aware of the spreadsheet, but he said he supported Christie’s re-election because the governor was “shaking up the status quo.”

Like Gerbounka, most of those on the spreadsheet who were contacted by Bloomberg News were unaware of its existence or their ranking. Brian Carlin, the Democratic mayor of Burlington Township, said he was approached by the administration shortly after he was elected in 2010 and invited to a meet-and-greet with the governor at a Giants game. He declined, although he said he accepted invites to a Christmas party at Drumthwacket, the official governor’s residence, and the dedication of a 9/11 memorial in Jersey City.

“As a matter of policy, I do not accept gifts from anybody,” said Carlin, who was rated a “5” and didn’t endorse the governor. “I won’t even let somebody buy me a cup of coffee.”

For the latest on the bridge trial, click here.

Former Hillside Mayor Joseph Menza, an independent who was ranked a “6,” said the Christie administration invited him to many events, including Christmas parties and meetings with other mayors. He endorsed Christie in 2013.

“You’re in a situation where you have to respect the position,” Menza said. “Basically it pays to get along. There’s discretionary funding. You always want to be courteous and respectful. When push comes to shove, you need funding.”

Tagliarini, 64, said there was “zero chance” he would have supported the governor, despite accepting invitations to a New York Jets game and a Christmas Party.

“I graciously declined, and there was no pressure whatsoever. No threat. Nothing,” he said. “I wrote him a very nice letter wishing him good luck in the election. That’s as far as it went.”

The other “10” on the list, Garfield Mayor Tana Raymond, said she endorsed Christie during his first campaign because she liked his efforts to fight corruption as a federal prosecutor. While the spreadsheet notes that Raymond had committed to endorsing the governor in 2013, she said she stayed on the sidelines that year.

“That was probably the only place I ranked a ‘10,’ ” she said. “I certainly didn’t rank that with the Democrats, and I’m still a Democrat.”

WTC steel displayed in Fort Lee, N.J.
WTC steel displayed in Fort Lee, N.J.
Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

The governor’s efforts to woo Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin fell flat. A Democrat who was rated a “4,” Hameeduddin said he accepted a tour of the World Trade Center site and a seat at a Giants game but never engaged in any serious discussions about a Christie endorsement.

“Everybody thought they were trying to build relationships with local government,” he said. “Nobody knew there was a political arm to this.”

Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty, a Democrat and a “2,” said he endorsed Christie’s opponent, then-state Senator Barbara Buono, and contributed to her campaign. He said he wasn’t contacted by the governor’s office or his campaign seeking an endorsement.

“I certainly wasn’t offered any tickets to Giants’ games,” Doherty said. “How do you get on that list?”

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