CLIFTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie found himself on the defensive Wednesday as retired educators and union workers lobbed criticism and lectured the tough-talking governor about his tone with the teachers union.
Holding his 12th town hall event to tout his proposed property tax reforms, Christie heard plenty of feedback on his criticism of the teachers union.
“Things have to change, but don’t come to us with a fist out and expect us to put our hand out and shake it,” said Ed Johnson, 60, a retired telephone repairman from Clifton, after clashing with Christie during the town hall. “The man has no class.”
The teachers union, which supported former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine in last year’s election, has been at odds with the Republican governor since the day he took office.
Christie’s attacks on the union have made him a national and YouTube sensation. But on Wednesday, a handful of retired teachers said they were ready for the nastiness to stop and solutions to start.
Angela Collucci Jones, 71, implored Christie to extend an olive branch. The former home economics teacher even suggested Christie invite New Jersey Education Association President Barbara Keshishian over for coffee and a nutritious snack to talk.
Christie said that wasn’t going to happen.
“I’m not going to invite Barbara Keshishian over for coffee, OK?” Christie fired back. “The campaign for the NJEA never stopped.”
Others also asked Christie to temper his criticism of the union, explaining that students can’t differentiate between teachers and their union, making the governor’s attacks seem like they are intended for all educators.
“Let’s set the reset button. Let’s dial it down,” one man asked. “Because that would be best for the kids.”
Christie had another suggestion: Get a new union.
“If you feel a distinction be made between the teachers and the teachers union, it’s time to change your union,” the governor replied.
At one point, Christie told an attendee that they had come to the “wrong complaint line” and needed to complain to the head of the union, not the head of the state.
A new Rutgers-Eagleton poll released Wednesday showed that a majority of state voters oppose Christie’s cuts to education and plan to link teacher pay to student performance.
While several people asked the governor to reconsider his tone, one teacher presented a surprising apology; he asked Christie to forgive him because he didn’t vote for him.
John Salierno, a retired Spanish and Italian teacher, said he agreed with Christie’s views on the union and was impressed with Christie for speaking his mind, even when it made him unpopular.
(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)