New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has taken a lot of flak of late, some deserved and some not from our vantage point. But he retains the ability to seize the moment and act boldly. He did so this week.
Watching the video of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice berating and pitching balls at his players’ heads is stomach turning. When Christie saw it and issued a prompt statement (“Gov. Christie saw the video today for the first time, and he is obviously deeply disturbed by the conduct displayed and strongly condemns this behavior”) you knew Rice would be packing his bags. By the week’s end Rice, an assistant coach, the athletic director and the university’s general counsel were gone. Rutgers University president Robert L. Barchi, according to the New York Times, “said he had been speaking regularly with Gov. Chris Christie.” I bet. Wouldn’t you have wanted to be a fly on the wall during that conversation?
Unlike the governor of Pennsylvania, who sued the NCAA for doling out punishment to Penn State, Christie moved swiftly against the errant sports department and in his no-nonsense style. In doing so, he likely saved the university from a prolonged crisis. (Accusations that other officials were involved have yet to be confirmed and late Saturday reports surfaced that the whistleblower who revealed the video allegedly tried to extort the university.)
In a statement released on Friday, Christie reminded New Jersey voters of a larger plan he had championed: “This entire incident was regrettable and while it has damaged the reputation of our state University, we need to move forward now on a number of fronts which provide great opportunities for Rutgers’ future. Completing the ground-breaking merger agreement with UMDNJ. Preparing for our academic and athletic entry into the Big 10 conference. Implementing Rutgers’ share of New Jersey’s $1.3 billion capital commitment to higher education. Finally, conducting a national search for a new athletic director and a new men’s basketball coach for athletic competition next year and in 2014 for our entry to the Big 10.”
Christie is heading for a huge victory this year in his reelection bid. The Rutgers incident reminds us why he is the most popular governor in the country — decisive, not willing to suffer fools (or miscreants) and ever the showman. Right-wing critics who foolishly write him off as a presidential candidate should consider how he takes command and gets quick results. He is, in many ways, the embodiment of everything the president is not.
So for all that, well done, Gov. Christie.