Dining Alone in Camden

By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog

Christie at Camden school
Gov. Christie visits Thomas H. Dudley Elementary School in Camden, NJ (1/24/14)

With subpoenas piling up and his back pressed against the wall, Save Jerseyans, many of us in the veteran Chris Christie extended supporter circle were hoping for a return to the Christie of 2009 after Tuesday’s muted, snow-battered inauguration.

This snipped from his solid inaugural address provided some reason for hope…

“I do not believe that New Jerseyans want a bigger, more expensive government that penalizes success and then gives the pittance left to a few in the name of income equity. What New Jerseyans want is an unfettered opportunity to succeed in the way they define success. They want an equal chance at the starting; not a government guaranteed result.”

Exactly! Preach, Brother Christie! And in that spirit, our Governor journeyed to an under-performing Camden public school on Thursday and… launched a school dinner pilot program?

We’ve heard it all before.

Dinner service, served between 3:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. and provided by ARAMARK, will be available to roughly 7 5 to 125 students from six separate Camden schools: Dudley Elementary, Octavius V. Catto School, HB Wilson Elementary, Hatch Family School, U.S. Wiggins School, and Camden High School.

“In Camden, we are beginning to see real progress on education issues from creating safety corridors to tackling the problem of high-school drop-outs,” said Governor Chris Christie to assembled students, staff, local officials and reporters. “This new After School Dinner Pilot Program is another innovative way to ensure children have an opportunity for a nourishing meal, which is a critical element to improving student performance and achievement.”

I could give you a big ‘ole explanation concerning how this idea flies in the face of the “unfettered opportunity to succeed” cited in Tuesday’s inaugural address. We already spend over twenty-thousand dollars per year in Camden for each and every K-12 pupil.

I’m serious: if we’re going to throw in dinner, too, then why not dispense with the pretense of fidelity to limited government principles, terminate parental rights in Camden, and construct a giant refuge in the Pine Barrens where these youngsters can be housed, educated and raised far away from the gunfire and drugs plaguing their neighborhoods?

Christie PodiumYou’ve heard all of that before, too. Except for maybe the last part.

My preoccupation this morning is political.

Why this? And why now?

It sure as hell doesn’t help with the GOP base nationally; he didn’t need any more problems on that front.

The South Jersey Machine Democrats who collaborated in the announcement appear ready and willing to betray their fair weather ally if the ongoing legislative and federal investigations take a turn for the expedient. Bipartisanship isn’t an escape plan when the dean of your Democrat allies (Steve Sweeney) needs to prove his Democrat loyalty to a decidedly more liberal North Jersey primary electorate that could fall prey to Steven Fulop or any single Bridgegate anti-hero like John Wisniewski or Dawn Zimmer.

You could also argue it’s no more complicated than another calculated distraction from the Bridgegate news drip. If so, OK, but it’s not really working, unless the insatiable press uncharacteristically gets tired of hyped “major announcements” that turn out to be blasé pressers without press availabilities and simply stop showing up.

Again, I don’t think that’s a likely outcome.

I’m drawing a blank, folks.

What I can conclude with a healthy degree of certainty and authority? The current Christie strategy is isolating the Governor at a time when he should be rallying his natural base and recruiting a bench of candidates (and future surrogates) for 2014, earning much-needed sympathy for himself in the midst of a shameless legislative witch hunt and media feeding frenzy.

Dining alone in Camden is the exact opposite of what he should be doing right now. Hillary Clinton’s eager allies will end up eating his lunch and Chris Christie will get stuck with the bill. Don’t doubt it for a moment.

Turning failing public schools into failing boarding schools isn’t the answer for our kids or, for that matter, an administration in crisis.

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