New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been asked to apologize for referring to the first black female leader of the state Assembly by race and gender, not by name, during a church-hosted meeting.
The Republican, who’s white, told an audience Tuesday that an “African-American female speaker of the Assembly” is blocking a vote on a school voucher bill that would let children in failing districts attend classes elsewhere.
Democratic Speaker Sheila Oliver later said she was “appalled” that Christie injected race into the discussion on education. Oliver, who represents a district with some failing schools, has said she believes the state should make a larger investment in public education.
On Thursday, the pastor whose church hosted the meeting asked Christie to apologize. He said the governor was disrespectful to the speaker and missed a chance to unite the community.
“I was and am saddened by the governor’s blatant attack (on the speaker),” said Kenneth Clayton, pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church in Paterson. “The words that the governor chose to use in speaking of Oliver, while not even respecting her enough to call her by name, defy his earlier assertion that political leaders, himself included, need to learn to respect all views and work together.”
A Christie spokesman said the governor’s comments were misinterpreted.
The flap comes at an inopportune time for Christie, who has been courting the black and Latino vote for his re-election bid in November.
And a crucial part of Christie’s narrative for 2016, should he decide to seek the Republican nomination for president, will be his willingness to reach across party lines to get things done — witness his embrace of President Barack Obama six days before the presidential election after a tour of the state’s Superstorm Sandy-ravaged coastline, for which he was renounced by some members of his own party.