Chris Christie apologizes again for payback scheme during State of the State address

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Chris Christie apologizes again for payback scheme during State of the State address
Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric, left, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie participate in the morning session of the National Governor's Association Winter Meeting in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31: Howard Stern, Jimmy Kimmel and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attend "Howard Stern's Birthday Bash" presented by SiriusXM, produced by Howard Stern Productions at Hammerstein Ballroom on January 31, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Jon Bon Jovi attend 'Howard Stern's Birthday Bash' presented by SiriusXM, produced by Howard Stern Productions at Hammerstein Ballroom on January 31, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie waits for the start of a ceremony to pass official hosting duties of next year's Super Bowl to representatives from Arizona, Saturday Feb. 1, 2014 in New York. Fellow Republicans are assessing the damage of new allegations that Gov. Christie knew about a traffic-blocking operation orchestrated by top aides.(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, center, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, display different reactions as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, left, speaks during a ceremony to pass official hosting duties of next year's Super Bowl to Arizona, Saturday Feb. 1, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a ceremony to pass official hosting duties of next year's Super Bowl to representatives from Arizona, Saturday Feb. 1, 2014 in New York. Fellow Republicans are assessing the damage of new allegations that Gov. Christie knew about a traffic-blocking operation orchestrated by top aides. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie waits for the start of a ceremony to pass official hosting duties of next year's Super Bowl to representatives from Arizona, Saturday Feb. 1, 2014 in New York. Fellow Republicans are assessing the damage of new allegations that Gov. Christie knew about a traffic-blocking operation orchestrated by top aides. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Faced with a widening political scandal that threatens to undermine his second term and a possible 2016 presidential run, Christie apologized again Tuesday, saying his administration "let down the people we are entrusted to serve" but that the issue doesn't define his team or the state. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie arrives to deliver his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J.Faced with a widening political scandal that threatens to undermine his second term and a possible 2016 presidential run, Christie apologized again Tuesday, saying his administration "let down the people we are entrusted to serve" but that the issue doesn't define his team or the state. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, center right, delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Christie apologized again Tuesday, saying his administration ?let down the people we are entrusted to serve? but that it doesn?t define his team or the state. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Christie apologized again Tuesday, saying his administration ?let down the people we are entrusted to serve? but that it doesn?t define his team or the state. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, second left, arrives at Fort Lee, N.J., City Hall, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Christie traveled to Fort Lee to apologize in person to Mayor Mark Sokolich. Moving quickly to contain a widening political scandal, Gov. Chris Christie fired one of his top aides Thursday and apologized repeatedly for the "abject stupidity" of his staff, insisting he had no idea anyone around him had engineered traffic jams to get even with a Democratic mayor. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
FORT LEE, NJ - JANUARY 09: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie enters the Borough Hall in Fort Lee to apologize to Mayor Mark Sokolich on January 9, 2014 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. According to reports Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is accused of giving a signal to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge, allegedly as punishment for the Fort Lee, New Jersey mayor not endorsing the Governor during the election. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
FORT LEE, NJ - JANUARY 09: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leaves the Borough Hall in Fort Lee where he apologized to Mayor Mayor Mark Sokolich on January 9, 2014 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. According to reports Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is accused of giving a signal to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge, allegedly as punishment for the Fort Lee, New Jersey mayor not endorsing the Governor during the election. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Governor Chris Christie talks to a reporter following a visit to Fort Lee Borough Hall Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, in Fort Lee, N.J. to apologize to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich about the governor's staff allegedly closing lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
TRENTON, NJ - JANUARY 9: David Wildstein (R) former director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority and his attorney Alan Zegas (L) is sworn in to testify at a hearing held by the Assembly Transportation Committee January 9, 2014 in Trenton, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. The committee has subpoenaed David Wildstein former director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority to testify about the agency's decision to temporarily close some access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee in September 2013. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 at the Statehouse in Trenton. N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie walks to the podium before a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
In a Monday, Sept. 2, 2013 photo, traffic moves across the George Washington Bridge, in Fort Lee, N.J. A top aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is linked through emails and text messages to a seemingly deliberate plan to create traffic gridlock in a town at the base of the bridge after its mayor refused to endorse Christie for re-election. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly wrote in an Aug. 13 email to David Wildstein, a top political appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the George Washington Bridge connecting New Jersey and New York City. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
A car uses an onramp to the George Washington Bridge toll plaza in Fort Lee, N.J., Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. The onramp was closed for three days in September 2013 snarling traffic at one of the world's busiest bridges, which links New Jersey and New York City. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faces political fallout over the traffic jam that caused hours-long backups for commuters and others as children started the school year.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Capitol Hill reporters watch a news conference with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie while waiting for House John Boehner's of Ohio news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Boehner said he believes Gov. Chris Christie remains a serious contender for the Republican 2016 presidential nomination, despite the traffic jam scandal engulfing the New Jersey governor.
This June 12, 2013 photo released by NBC shows host Jimmy Fallon, right, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Chistie during a taping of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," in New York. (AP Photo/NBC, Lloyd Bishop)
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By ANGELA DELLI SANTI

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Faced with a widening political scandal that threatens to undermine his second term and a possible 2016 presidential run, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie apologized again Tuesday, saying his administration "let down the people we are entrusted to serve" but that the issue doesn't define his team or the state.

On the eve of his second term, the governor opened his annual State of the State address by touching only briefly on the apparent political payback plot before moving on to take credit for the state's improving economy and cycle through such familiar themes as avoiding tax increases and working with the Democrats who control both chambers of the state Legislature.

He also promoted the state's rising high school graduation rate and proposed lengthening both the school day and school year but did not offer details. He promised to present choices to overhaul the state's tax system next month when he presents his budget proposal but did not offer an insight on how he might want to do that. A tax cut he proposed two years ago foundered in the Legislature.

"The last week has certainly tested this administration," he told legislators and others gathered at the Statehouse. "Mistakes were clearly made. And as a result, we let down the people we are entrusted to serve. I know our citizens deserve better."

He received tempered applause after he went on, saying, "This administration and this Legislature will not allow the work that needs to be done to improve the people's lives in Jersey to be delayed."

Among his audience were lawmakers who announced this week that they're intensifying their probe of the political retribution scheme.

The scandal broke wide open last week with the release of documents showing the involvement of Christie aides and appointees in apparently politically orchestrated traffic lane closings in September that caused massive gridlock. The governor has fired one close aide and others on his team have resigned.

Christie first apologized last week during a nearly two-hour news conference, saying he was blindsided by his staff's involvement. Christie has denied any knowledge in the planning or execution of the plot, and there is no evidence linking him to it.

A popular figure in the Republican Party, Christie won re-election by 22 points in November after earning high marks from New Jerseyans for his handling of the state's recovery from Superstorm Sandy, and his stock had been rising as a potential candidate for president in 2016.

Now, he is hoping his State of the State address will help him rebound from the apparent political payback scheme that could damage his second term and cut short any ambitions to run for president.

The first year of his second term is considered a key building block for his political future.

After his November re-election, his advisers suggested he had just a one-year window to stack up accomplishments as a can-do, bipartisan leader before his lame-duck status - and a prospective White House campaign - start to interfere.

The recent revelations may have slammed that window shut.

His top-line new proposal - to extend the school day - was not exactly embraced by one key group.

Wendell Steinhauer, president of New Jersey's largest and most powerful teachers union and a frequent adversary of Christie, said in a statement ahead of the speech that the group would welcome discussion of the proposal with Christie. But Steinhauer also criticized Christie for his veto Monday of a bill that would have implemented full-day kindergarten statewide.

An overhaul of public employee retirement benefits by Christie and the Legislature in 2011 was bitterly opposed by the union, which spent millions of dollars on anti-Christie ads during his gubernatorial campaigns.

The plan is the latest from a governor who has sought to retool schooling in grades kindergarten through 12 with mixed success.

He successfully overhauled century-old teacher tenure rules in a way the union supported, essentially eliminating lifetime job protections. But the Democrat-led Legislature has not gone along with his voucher plan, which would allow children in failing schools to attend classes elsewhere, including at private or parochial schools.

Christie is set to be inaugurated for a second term Jan. 21.

Despite Scandals, Christie Says State of the State Is Good

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