In a video clip from a recent public appearance, Gov. Christie looms over an aggressive questioner and delivers a typically animated tirade, complete with fist-clenching and finger-pointing. As The Inquirer reported last week, the display has given New Jersey Democrats an opportunity to revisit a favorite question: Is Christie just a big bully?
But that's the wrong question. The voters of New Jersey hired Christie to push people around and get things done in their recalcitrant capital. Wondering if his people-pushing skills are overdeveloped at this point is akin to hiring an exterminator and then fretting over all the dead mice.
The right question is: Why is Christie a big bully only sometimes? More specifically, why has he so far allowed the free-spending, debt-piling, commuter-soaking Delaware River Port Authority - the very antithesis of everything he claims to stand for - to raise tolls by 25 percent without making so much as an angry gesture?
Last week, after weeks of apparently academic hand-wringing, all but one DRPA commissioner - John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, the Philadelphia labor boss turned unlikely taxpayer champion - voted to raise tolls on the agency's Delaware River bridges from $4 to $5, effective July 1. They also postponed a 10 percent increase in PATCO rail fares from January to July - their lone concession to commuters.
DRPA officials are making most of their concessions these days to what they and their financial advisers like to call "Wall Street," which is actually a proxy for their own fiscal recklessness over the course of years or perhaps decades. They say that even talking about postponing the toll hike risks repercussions from Manhattan - namely, credit-rating downgrades that could force the DRPA to post more than $200 million in collateral to shore up dubious financial instruments.
DRPA vice chairman Jeffrey Nash, who is also a Camden County freeholder, says that in the wake of controversy over the agency's employee perks and far-flung spending on "economic development," it has made reforms and righted the ship. Given that and the economic downturn, he says he hates to impose the toll increase now. But he argues that it doesn't matter if the DRPA has money to delay the hike (as it apparently does), because the delay itself would aggravate credit raters' doubts.
In other words, Wall Street doesn't trust the DRPA, so the rest of us have to.
Unless, that is, some powerful chief executive - perhaps one who has veto power over DRPA decisions - decides to defend the little people against these big bullies of high finance and low government.