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Rhode Island Tip Sheet: Chris Christie — man of the moment

February 28, 2011

STATE OF THE NATION: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie epitomizes the growing clashes between elected officials and public-employee unions, so Matt Bai‘s profile of him in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine is well worth the read. Short version: 1) Christie, a heavyset former federal prosecutor (who bears a passing resemblance, ironically, to James Gandolfini) squeaked into office largely due to the unpopularity of predecessor Jon Corzine; 2) Christie is an ace at politicial communication, using easy-to-understand concepts to amplify his message and simplify complicated topics; 3) New Jersey is among a number of states with hard-to-solve fiscal woes; 4) politically powerful public-employee unions are  an appealing target in a time of economic strife (see next item).

GARDEN STATE GIST:  Here’s an excerpt from Bai’s story on Christie: “If politicians of both parties are suddenly willing to go after the pensions and health care plans of teachers and cops and firefighters, it’s probably not only because they’re out of budgeting options, but also because suddenly they see it as politically advantageous. In other words, not only are public employees’ contracts no longer untouchable for any politician who wants to stay in office, but it turns out that the opposite is true; taking the fight to the unions is a good way to bolster your credentials as a gutsy reformer with voters who have been losing faith for years in public schools and government bureaucracies.  This, more than anything else, is the lesson that Chris Christie has impressed on his contemporaries. The question now, and what a lot of these other governors are watching to see, is whether Christie can convert his anti-union riffs into a revised social contract for public servants. While he has enacted several pivotal pieces of his agenda, Christie has yet to pass more than a handful of the measures in his toolkit. This year will mark a major test of his staying power. The question a lot of political observers are asking, in New Jersey and nationally, is whether Christie’s argument will begin to lose its resonance as voters inevitably grow weary of the hostility and the rhetorical smack downs.”

BACK IN PROVIDENCE: Providence Mayor Angel Taveras released a public letter yesterday, explaining his decision to terminate the city’s teaching staff. His main point: The city’s hand is being forced by its fiscal duress, and by the March 1 deadline for notifying teachers of a change to their status. Taveras adds that dismissal notices for most teachers will be rescinded. Excerpt from his letter: “It has always been, and remains my intent, to work together with our teachers and our communities. You may have read comments from union leaders comparing me to the Governor of Wisconsin.  This comparison is wrong and misleading.  Unlike the Governor of Wisconsin, I support the democratic right to organize and have been participating regularly in meetings with our City unions to strengthen our partnerships and find common ground in solving our financial problems.  Just a few weeks ago I celebrated the settlement between union workers and management to end a labor boycott of the Westin Hotel. I was proud to support the hotel workers and support collective bargaining.”

OTHER STATES, OTHER DRAMAS: New York City Mayor and FOL (Friend of Linc) Michael Bloomberg writes today in the NYT:  limit pay, not unions . . . . National Review Online says the real problem is the political power of unions . . . . Politico says the Wisconsin fight was years in the making for the right . . . . Anchor Rising’s Andrew Morse offers his take on public unrest about public unions.

GONE TOO SOON: R.I.P., Larry Friedlander, 57, owner of the Hi-Hat in Providence.

PSY-OPS: The US military denies Rolling Stone’s claim that Jack Reed and other senators were targeted for psychological operations.

FOLLIES: More than 1000 Rhode Islanders packed the Venus de Milo in Swansea, Massachusetts, last Friday for the annual Providence Newspaper Guild Follies. Kudos to c0-hosts Andy Smith and Frank O’Donnell for an excellent job with the stand-up humor, even if it was a bit kinder and gentler than the norm. Two standout musical numbers: “Even the Rats,” sung to the tune of Katy Perry‘s “California Girls,” about the proposed merger of Pawtucket and Central Falls . . . . and “Lieutenant Ga-Ga,” sung to the tune of Lady Gaga‘s “Bad Romance,” performed by a string of futuristic singers (with periodic incursions by a series of swarthy miniature Robert Healeys). Sample lyric of the latter: “I’ve got no power just political ties/I’m only here in case/the governor dies/Lieutenant Governor/I’ve got an office, a budget and staff/The whole costs the state a mil and a half/Lieutenant Governor/Ignore Bob Healey! Don’t vote for Bob Healey! Bob Healey’s Bad! Bad! Bad! . . . . Healey was the Mystery Guest, done up as Jesus (in reference to a remark made during his campaign last year), sending at least one former LG running for the exit.

R.I.P.: Duke Snider, one of the great boys of summer of Brooklyn baseball in the 1950s.

EYE OF THE NEWT: The Fix on Newt Gingrich stepping closer to a possible presidential run: “Good Newt is, without question, one of the most talented politicians operating in the party today — brilliant, brimming with ideas and charismatic. Bad Newt uses his rhetorical firepower — and it is considerable — too freely, falling off message and, in so doing, bringing trouble down on himself.”

MEDIA: Like Ted Nesi says, thanks to the Fix for naming the two of us as RI’s best political tweeters . . . . Tina Brown lures Andrew Sullivan . . . . Terrific baseball writer Howard Bryant, formerly of the Boston Herald and now with ESPN, charged with domestic assault . . . . Dan Kennedy finds media genius Marshall McLuhan a tad off-putting, but prescient on the importance of classified ads to newspapers.

BIRTHDAY: Chris Wilhite.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. rhody permalink
    February 28, 2011 5:19 pm

    Who bolted? Charlie? Little Richard? Do tell!

  2. February 28, 2011 5:43 pm

    What happens at the Follies stays at the Follies!

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