Chris Christie should take a lesson from Ras Baraka's playbook: Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
on August 25, 2014

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka held his first of five town hall meetings last week, to discuss the city budget and education. And oh what a contrast it was from the type of town halls we've come to expect in New Jersey, thanks to Gov. Chris Christie and his army of political handlers.

Christie, who's held well over 100 town halls across this state, made himself into a national political star with made-for-YouTube moments at these events. They are usually held against backdrops of high school gyms and community centers. But they are not about real feedback from the public.

Christie makes a big show of his straight-shooting, combative Jersey style, but his town halls are designed to include as large a cheering section as possible. They are usually held at 11 a.m. or 3 p.m., during hours when working people can't make it. They draw mostly white crowds and seniors, and are skewed toward Republicans.

These are pep rallies designed to build up the governor's national brand. Christie is announced by a booming voice: "Ladies and gentlemen! Governor Chris Christie!" after which he makes his grand entrance from behind a blue drape.

There were no such theatrics at Baraka's first town hall meeting on Friday. This is because it was about communicating with the public, not community theater. How do we know that? Baraka scheduled the event for 7 p.m., to give as many people as possible the chance to attend. He even provided on-site babysitters for parents with small children.

So regardless of which politician you agree with more, give Baraka his due: At least he's making himself truly available to his constituents. If only our governor were brave enough to do the same.

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