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Christie seeming a bit too crusty?

His combative demeanor, highlighted in a YouTube video, attracts attention from friends and foes.

If Gov. Christie plans to implement a sweeping agenda to reform public education, he must open the door for all stakeholders to participate. (Mel Evans / AP)
If Gov. Christie plans to implement a sweeping agenda to reform public education, he must open the door for all stakeholders to participate. (Mel Evans / AP)Read more

At first glance, the YouTube video of a man berating a smaller man looks like a TV talk-show confrontation.

But this video is of Gov. Christie, known for his blunt but calculated outbursts and big personality, speaking to a citizen who asked a question at a public meeting.

The moment has raised questions about the governor's demeanor.

What is not shown is that the man, Keith Chaudruc, of Madison, N.J., passionately asked how Christie could sunset a surtax on millionaires while allowing NJ Transit fares to go up, making life harder for the working class.

Christie called him up to the front of the meeting room in Parsippany, N.J., and became animated, with fingers pointing and arms and hands waving to emphasize his words. At the end of that Dec. 3 confrontation, Chaudruc wanted to retort. Christie, instead, extended his hand. After a pause, they shook.

Democrats called Christie a bully. Some wondered aloud whether he had crossed a line between forceful leadership and thuggishness.

Michael Drewniak, the governor's press secretary, said Chaudruc and his brother had spent the earlier part of the evening heckling Christie. Chaudruc did not return calls seeking comment.

The governor's longtime friend and political supporter Bill Palatucci, a Republican national committeeman, said it was just Christie being Christie.

The governor was arguing that he had inherited a multibillion-dollar budget deficit and that New Jersey residents could not handle a tax increase.

"The governor is giving voice to the average working Joe out there - the guy who hasn't gotten a raise in a couple of years, whose co-pay and deductibles have gone up, whose property taxes have gone up," Palatucci said.

But Democratic Party chairman John Wisniewski, also a Middlesex County assemblyman, said: "The governor is not giving voice to those people. He's giving voice to the angry residents of rich enclaves who don't want to pay their fair share to live in a great state."

Palatucci said voters were still encouraged by Christie's ability to show he felt their pain, but he let on, "Yeah, some people think there are moments where he might moderate this or that."

There are signs that Christie is showing the softer side of his personality.

Last week, his office released a video of him reading "A Visit From St. Nicholas."

At a town-hall meeting Wednesday in his hometown of Livingston, N.J., he spoke sweetly of his late mother, said he liked teachers - but not their union - and told a story about meeting Paul McCartney.

His wife, Mary Pat Christie, hosted a lunch at Drumthwacket, the governor's mansion in Princeton, to celebrate community activists. At the Statehouse Thursday, he announced a compromise with Democratic leaders, including Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex), whom he had once called a liar.

The bully charge is not new. Former Gov. Jon S. Corzine's supporters called Christie a bully during the 2009 governor's race.

The accusation didn't stick, in part because the messenger was flawed. Corzine's campaign ridiculed Christie about his weight and hammered him on a federal investigation of his brother, Todd, which found no wrongdoing.

But the question of whether the governor can walk the line between being a strong leader and a ruffian is now out there.

On a campaign trip to support unsuccessful California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman in September, Christie talked down a heckler at a rally, saying: "It's people who raise their voices and yell and scream like you that are dividing this country."

At the time, many said he was chivalrous.

But Wisniewski said in a recent interview: "When our governor goes out of state and jumps off podiums, you get the image of somehow Tony Soprano became governor. It conjures up all the worst stereotypes people have."

Voters, though, still like Christie's style, according to Patrick Murray, Monmouth University's polling director.

"People are frustrated right now and want to know that their leaders understand that frustration. Christie's style conveys to them that he gets it," Murray said. "So far, that has definitely worked for him."

Even voters who "aren't sure about the choices he's made give him the benefit of the doubt because they like his style," he said.

But just as there sometimes is a need for a tough-talking boss at an underperforming company, at some point that executive demeanor ceases to be effective, Rider University political scientist Ben Dworkin said.

"That personality that worked so well before suddenly stops working," he said. "Nobody knows where that point is, and that's the thin ice for him in the future."