To see his son play baseball, Chris Christie would sometimes swoop in on a 55-foot-long state police helicopter. His lavish travels over the course of his two terms as New Jersey governor were at times funded by a foreign king, a casino tycoon and the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. He was widely excoriated — and humiliated — for lounging on a state-owned beach amid a government shutdown that closed state beaches to the public.
So it should come as no surprise that Christie, who left office this year as the least popular governor in New Jersey history, is leaving behind his mark in typical extravagant swagger.
Christie’s official portrait will be painted by a renowned Australian artist and will cost a total of $85,000 — more than what was paid by the three previous New Jersey governors combined, according to documents obtained by the Bergen Record through the state’s Open Public Records Act.
The $85,000 price tag is the most any New Jersey governor has paid for the official portrait, the Record reported. The next most expensive was $58,000, purchased by Democrat Jim Florio, who served as governor from 1990 to 1994. The three governors before Christie — Jon Corzine, Richard Codey and Jim McGreevey, all Democrats — spent a combined $74,500 on portraits, according to the Record.
As other governors have done, the state will pay for the portrait through a transition account worth $250,000. Funded by taxpayers, the account can be used to pay for staff, office space and other services, including commissioning portraits, the Record reported. The account has so far paid for $37,500 of the portrait’s cost.
The Christie portrait price tag pales in comparison to the Obama portraits, which reportedly cost $500,000, including the unveiling ceremony and costs of future care. But ever since the presidency of George H.W. Bush, official portraits have been paid for with private funds — not taxpayer money.
A spokesman for Christie was not immediately available for comment and did not respond to questions from the Record.
Christie commissioned the portrait through a Manhattan firm that has brokered portraits of subjects such as former U.S. secretaries of state Colin L. Powell and Madeleine Albright, the Record reported.
The artist selected to paint the portrait, Paul Newton, has a portfolio stacked with celebrities, elite athletes and politicians. He boasts subjects such as singer Kylie Minogue, former NBA commissioner David Stern and Stephen Friedman, a former top White House economic adviser. He has won a number of prestigious portraiture awards, including first place in the Portrait Society of America’s International Portrait Competition.
Newton is described by the National Portrait Gallery as “the quintessential portrait artist,” who “imbues his contemporary portrait subjects with grandeur and a kind of aristocratic nonchalance whatever their social status.”
“That fact is, who cares?” Christie told reporters. “You guys care much more about that stuff than I do. I’ve said to you over and over and over again: Poll numbers matter when you’re running for something. When you’re not running for something, they don’t matter a bit, and I don’t care.”
In July, a news photographer captured the now-infamous aerial photos of Christie lounging in shorts and a baseball cap, enjoying the beach while the rest of the state’s taxpayers couldn’t.
Even after “Beachgate” elicited widespread outrage and countless memes, Christie didn’t flinch.
“That’s the way it goes,” he said when asked about his stay. “Run for governor, and you can have the residence.”
The former governor once told the New York Times he wants to “squeeze all the juice out of the orange.”
He appears to have followed through on that crack. For example, the New York Times reported that Christie and his family traveled to Israel in 2012 on a private plane lent by Sheldon G. Adelson, the billionaire casino owner who also happened to oppose legislation that was before the governor.
On that trip, Christie and his family enjoyed a weekend paid for by King Abdullah II of Jordan. But the governor and his staff also spent $30,000 on lavish Kempinski hotels, the Times reported.
When he was a federal prosecutor, Christie stayed in hotels that exceeded the cost of government guidelines — using taxpayers’ money, according to a report from the Justice Department. Christie was identified as among five U.S. attorneys from 2007 to 2009 who “exhibited a noteworthy pattern of exceeding the government rate and whose travel documentation provided insufficient, inaccurate or no justification for the higher lodging rates.”
Christie, in particular, was noted as the attorney who “most often exceeded the government rate without adequate justification,” failing to give sufficient rationale for 14 of 23 trips that exceeded the government rate. The report mentioned Christie’s stays in $449-per-night hotel rooms in Boston and lodging in the Four Seasons in Washington for $475 a night, more than double the government rate.
Christie’s legacy is also tarnished by the “Bridgegate” scandal, in which his aides were found guilty of conspiring to shut down the nation’s busiest bridge to punish a local Democratic mayor.
Christie, who recently signed on as a contributor to ABC News, has long talked about how he wants his tenure memorialized. In his first year as governor, according to the Bergen Record, he said: “I’m getting the oil portrait in the Statehouse.”
“So here’s the thing — when I bring my grandchildren back to the Statehouse and I show them that painting … they’re going to ask me, ‘What did you do, Grandpa, what did you do?’ ” he said, according to the Record.
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