1 capture
20 Jan 2014
About this capture
In the News
Chris Christie’s 1994 ad was too tough (and inaccurate) for Jersey
Video: The Post's David Fahrenthold explains how, after Chris Christie ran a less-than-true attack ad about his opponents in a local election in 1994, the now-New Jersey governor discovered the possible consequences of playing hardball.
By David A. Fahrenthold, E-mail the writer
In Chris Christie’s first successful campaign for public office, he sat down next to his wife and baby, looked into a camera and told voters something that wasn’t true.
It was 1994, and Christie was a 31-year-old lawyer running for the county board in suburban Morris County, N.J. He was making a television ad, saying to the camera that his opponents were “being investigated by the Morris County prosecutor.”
In 1994, N.J. Gov. Chris Christie (R) ran for the county board in Morris County. His television ad against his opponents was inaccurate and led to a lawsuit.
See how lane closures created a traffic snarlup on the George Washington Bridge.
Read the e-mails
Documents related to alleged retribution by the Christie administration against mayors who did not endorse the New Jersey governor's reelection.
Actually, they weren’t. But Christie’s inaccurate ad ran more than 400 times on cable TV before the June GOP primary. He won.
Today, Christie is the Garden State’s governor, facing allegations that, during last year’s reelection campaign, his aides snarled traffic on a major bridge to punish a political enemy.
That 1994 race was New Jersey’s introduction to the brash and confident Christie, whose hardball tactics have repeatedly surprised people — even in a state that thinks it invented hardball.
But in Morris County back then, people thought Christie had learned the downside of playing so rough: That ad helped get him into his first elected office but then helped get him out of it. He was sued for defamation, required to apologize and then defeated at the polls after just one term.
“He needed a launchpad. That’s really how I look at it,” said Christopher Laureys, whose mother, Cecilia Laureys, was one of the candidates who sued Christie because of the ad. “I don’t think he really cared who was in the way of the flames when he launched.”
By the time of the election, Christie had been a man in a hurry for most of his life. He had won student council elections in high school in Livingston, N.J., and then at the University of Delaware. At age 15, he had also made a mentor of future governor Thomas H. Kean (R), then a state assemblyman, by showing up at Kean’s home and asking for advice.
In 1994, he ran for the office of freeholder, New Jersey’s equivalent of a county commissioner. In a deep-red county, the race that mattered was the GOP primary.
“There was one elected Democrat in the 20th century. Watergate. There was a one-term Democratic freeholder elected in the Watergate era. . . . He was out the next time,” said Paul Bangiola, who ran the county’s hapless Democratic Party from 1998 to 2002. “We have what is actually the strongest, most unified, most intact political machine in the United States. It just happens to be a Republican machine, where people have whales on their ties.”
Christie was an outsider — a transplant from a neighboring county — trying to force out GOP incumbents. The TV ad helped. It played while north Jersey was glued to the National Hockey League playoffs, watching the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers.
The problem was, it wasn’t true.
“I called the prosecutor, Mike Murphy, up and said, ‘Am I being investigated?,’ and he said, ‘You’re not,’ ” said Edward Tamm, one of the incumbents Christie ran against. “You cannot tell untruthful facts. I mean, that’s the part that really got me upset.”
The problem with Christie’s ad was the word “investigated,” with its connotations of corruption or criminal wrongdoing. The reality was less dramatic: The county prosecutor had conducted what he called an “inquiry” into whether freeholders had violated an open-meeting law.
Tamm and Laureys sued for defamation. But when the primary came, they lost. Christie and one of his allies won, along with one of the three incumbent candidates.
The race had been so bitter that, on primary night, people had trouble getting the winners to stand next to one another for a photo. Eventually, the Star-Ledger newspaper reported, they posed and grinned, but did not “give the usual signal of political unification — over-the-head hand-holding.”
“I am not here to do business as usual,” Christie said a few months later, when he was sworn in as a freeholder. “I know I was sent here to ensure that the public’s business is vigorously debated and decided in public.”
In office, Christie focused on some of the issues that have defined his career. He pressed for stronger ethics rules, called for lower taxes and attacked cronyism in the county’s business dealings. Former colleagues on the board said he was hardworking, confident and sometimes contentious.
“I don’t consider him a bully. I don’t. He’s a likable person. You may not always agree with him, and I can’t say I always agreed with him,” said Frank Druetzler (R), who served alongside Christie. “We debated the issue, and then we would have lunch, you know what I’m saying? That type of thing.”
But Christie continued to make enemies outside the chamber, by starting a new campaign just months after the old one ended. He ran for the state assembly, teaming up with another local Republican, Rick Merkt (in New Jersey, each assembly district elects two representatives).
“It turned out to be the worst mistake I ever made in politics, because he had ticked off so many people,” Merkt says now. “We got shellacked.”
That 1995 campaign fizzled in part because of lingering anger over the 1994 ad. Although New Jersey politics is famous for its eye-gouging tactics, some parts of Jersey are less Jersey than others. Morris County is one of those places. Republicans there were still mad at what Christie had done.
“It was considered below the belt. I don’t think it was below the belt,” said Rick Shaftan, a hard-bitten New Jersey political consultant who worked for one of Christie’s opponents in that race. Although the ad didn’t bother Shaftan, he knew it bothered others, and he crafted ads that showed Christie as a “career politician” grappling in a mud pit.
“Even though Christie had been in office a year, he was a ‘mud-wrestling career politician,’ ” Shaftan says, laughing now at the truth-stretching he employed to attack Christie’s truth-stretching. “What do you do, complain after the election?”
In 1996, Christie settled the defamation lawsuit. Tamm, one of those who sued him, said the terms required Christie to pay a sum of money — “I’m not at liberty to say” how much — and to run an apology in local newspapers.
The statements in the ad “were not accurate. Neither of you were under investigation by the Morris County prosecutor at any time,” Christie wrote in the apology, addressed to Tamm and Laureys. He continued: “I fully intend, in any future campaigns in which I am involved, to be much more sensitive to the impact of such tactics.”
The next spring, Christie faced another Republican primary, to keep his freeholder seat. He lost, finishing dead last in the field. That night, when he stood up at the GOP party to give his concession speech, there was an extra humiliation: The crowd talked over him and drowned him out.
Then, Christie has said, he walked off the stage to see a local Republican rival standing there.
“I said to him, ‘Well, it’s good to see you’re in such good humor tonight,’ ” he told the Star-Ledger in 1997. “And he said, ‘You know what I’m doing? I’m kissing your [expletive] career goodbye.’ ”
After that defeat, Christie returned to his law firm and helped open its lobbying office in the state capital, Trenton. He sued his rivals in the 1997 campaign, saying they had run misleading ads about him. That suit was settled years later with a statement of “regret” issued by Christie’s opponents.
“I pretty much decided I would never run for anything again,” Christie told authors Bob Ingle and Michael Symons, who wrote a 2012 biography of the governor. “I thought to myself, you know, maybe I was not cut out for this.”
Christie’s press office did not respond to a request for comment Friday about this period of his life.
Christie resurrected his career through a connection to George W. Bush: He was a top fundraiser for Bush’s presidential campaign, and in 2001 Bush appointed him U.S. attorney for New Jersey. Suddenly, Morris County’s also-ran had immense power statewide. In New Jersey, being the top federal prosecutor is “a little bit like being God Almighty,” said Bangiola, the Morris County Democrat.
In Morris County, Christie patched up relations with many of his old rivals, seeing them at church services and soccer games. Even Cecilia Laur­eys, one of the two who sued him for that inaccurate ad, endorsed him when he ran for governor. Laureys died in July at age 81.
“She always felt like he had turned a page” after that incident, said her son, Christopher. He said his mother also admired Christie’s corruption-busting work as U.S. attorney. She told her son: “In politics, you learn to forgive. And if you’re smart, you never forget.”
Top Politics Stories
Most Popular Videos
The Post Most: Politics
The Republican Party's uphill path to 270 electoral votes in 2016
America hates the Seahawks
Read In
See what's being read across the country ›
More ways to get us
Newsletter & Alerts
Washington Post Live
Reprints & Permissions
Post Store
Contact Us
Help & Contact Info
Reader Representative
Digital Advertising
Newspaper Advertising
News Service & Syndicate
About Us
In the community
Newspaper in Education
Digital Publishing Guidelines
© 1996- The Washington Post
Terms of Service
Privacy Policy
Submissions and Discussion Policy
RSS Terms of Service
Ad Choices
Real EstateRentalsCarsToday's PaperGoing Out GuideFind&SaveService Alley
HomePostTVIn PostTVPoliticsIn PoliticsCongressCourts & LawThe Fed PageHealth CarePollingWhite HouseGovBeatMd. PoliticsVa. PoliticsD.C. PoliticsBlogs & Columnsrosalind_s_heldermanHoboken mayor meets with federal prosecutorsPost Politics Rosalind S. Heldermanzachary_goldfarb17 highlights from the New Yorker’s 17,000-word profile on ObamaThe Fix Zachary Goldfarbjohn_sidesThe Democratic Party’s uphill path to 270 electoral votes in 2016The Monkey Cage John Sidesreid_wilsonArizona Session Preview: Rethinking child servicesGovBeat Reid Wilsonjosh_hicksAgency-by-agency breakdown of the spending billThe Federal Eye Josh HicksOpinionsIn OpinionsToles Cartoons Telnaes AnimationsThe Post's ViewLetters to the EditorLocal OpinionsColumnist IndexFeatured Blogsalexandra_petriFox News host complains no one knows history, then proves itComPost Alexandra Petrigreg_sargentSunday Open ThreadThe Plum Line Greg Sargentjonathan_capehartPutin, Uganda, the ‘Bachelor’ and the gaysPostPartisan Jonathan Capehartjennifer_rubinSunday wrapRight Turn Jennifer RubinLocalIn LocalD.C. Maryland Virginia Crime Education Obituaries Transportation Weather Blogs & Columns Blogs & Columnsbrian_jacksonD.C. area forecast: Milder ahead of our next arctic blastCapital Weather Gang Brian Jacksonlauren_mcewenFree and EasyGoing Out Guide Lauren McEwenlori_arataniMWAA to get permanent federal oversightDr. Gridlock Lori ArataniSportsIn Sports Redskins/NFL Capitals/NHL Wizards/NBA Nationals/MLB D.C. United/Soccer Colleges AllMetSports Blogs & Columns Other SportsBlogs & Columnskatie_carreraOvechkin: ‘We say too much, go out there and do it’Capitals Insider Katie Carreradan_steinbergJohn Wall’s backward circus shotDC Sports Bog Dan Steinbergkeith_mcmillanChampionship games open threadThe Insider Keith McMillanadam_kilgoreNats, Ramos avoid arbitration Nationals Journal Adam KilgoreNationalIn NationalEnergy & EnvironmentHealth & Science Education National Security InvestigationsInnovations Know MoreReligion On Giving CorrectionsBlogs & Columnsmatt_mcfarlandThere’s no shame in having a feature phoneInnovationsnia_malika_hendersonWendy Davis admits to fuzzy facts in bioShe The People Nia-Malika HendersonWorldIn WorldAfrica The AmericasAsia & Pacific Europe Middle East National Security War Zones Special Reports Columns & BlogsBlogs & Columnsmax_fisherMuseveni: homosexuality caused by ‘random breeding’WorldViews Max Fisherkathy_lallyRussian mysteries at SochiWorldViews Kathy Lallyjason_rezaianIranian female politician’s speech canceledWorldViews Jason Rezaianmax_fisherThe one-sided politics of ‘The Square’WorldViews Max FisherBusinessIn Business Economy IndustriesMarketsPolicy & RegulationKnow More World BusinessCapital BusinessOn Leadership On Small Business On I.T. Blogs & Columnsmichelle_singletaryYour information is out there. What are you doing to protect it?The Color of Money Michelle Singletarymike_konczalIn 2013, the Fed showed why fiscal policy is still importantWonkblog Mike Konczaljena_mcgregorWall Street eases up, a little, on junior bankersOn Leadership Jena McGregorTechIn TechnologyInnovation Green Technology The Switch Photo Galleries Blogs & Columnshayley_tsukayamaNSA program defenders question Snowden’s motives Hayley Tsukayamaandrea_petersonA readers uses the Mafia to explain net neutralityThe Switch Andrea Petersonbrian_fungSupreme Court to rule on warrantless cell phone searchesThe Switch Brian Fungandrea_petersonHalf of taxpayer funded research will now be available to the publicThe Switch Andrea PetersonLifestyleIn LifestyleAdvice Carolyn Hax Food Express Home & Garden Style Travel Weddings Wellness Magazine KidsPost On Parenting Blogs & Columnsjoe_heim‘Downton Abbey’ recap: Is Mary ready to be married again?The Style Blog Joe Heimhelena_andrewsSir Paul McCartney takes Obama’s EBYC adviceThe Reliable Source Helena AndrewsEntertainmentIn EntertainmentBooksComics Going Out GuideHoroscopes MoviesMuseums Music Puzzles & Games Theater & DanceTV Blogs & Columnsmichael_cavnaDoodle for Batman co-creator? Writer seeks Google’s helpComic Riffs Michael Cavnalauren_mcewenFree and EasyGoing Out Guide Lauren McEwenJobsIn JobsMoreClassifiedsCarsDealsReal EstateRentalsPhotosBlogsDiscussionsFind&SaveObituariesArchivesTopicsWP Wine ClubWP BrandConnect
AfghanistanChris ChristieHillary Clinton‘Downton Abbey’MLK
Christie’s early ad too tough for Jersey9 surprising facts about MLKVIDEO | GOP goes from repeal to revampOne family, two sacrifices