BELMAR, New Jersey — Gov. Chris Christie was greeted by a smattering of protesters Wednesday during his latest summertime talk with residents in New Jersey's beach communities.
Christie's 125th town hall-style event was interrupted twice by audience members angry that his administration has never held one of the events in the city of Newark, where Christie was born. Others booed and held signs protesting the Republican governor's call for new pension and benefit cuts.
A plane hired by environmental advocates flew overhead pulling a banner urging Christie to sign a bill that would ban the treatment and disposal of waste from hydraulic fracturing in the state.
All three issues were raised by audience members.
"You claim to love Newark and it's your hometown. But why have you blatantly ignored Newark in your over 120 town hall meetings?" asked Kristin Towkaniuk, the 17-year-old president of the Newark Students Union.
Christie, in his usual combative style, brushed off the question, telling the teen that she was "just not well-informed" and that he'd "spent as much time or more in Newark than anybody."
"The answer is I'll do my town halls where me and my staff think are the best places for me to do the town halls. If one of them turns up in Newark, I hope you show up and you get to ask a question that's better than the one you just asked," he said.
While most Christie town hall events are tightly controlled by the governor's staff, protesters seemed to dominate the crowd gathered around Wednesday's venue — an open-air gazebo not far from the beach. The crowd included many retired teachers and other state workers who held signs and wore shirts that said "Our Pain, Christie's Gain" — a play on the "No Pain, No Gain" title Christie's staff has given this summer's push.
The governor has spent recent weeks at similar events hammering the message that the state's promised pension and health benefits for public employees are unsustainable. He plans to present overhaul plans this fall.
And while he used his opening remarks to press lawmakers to pass bail reform measures, the issue came up when Asbury Park resident Jean Toher, who retired from her job as a teacher in July after 40 years, told Christie she was concerned about what would happen if current workers stopped paying into the system.
Christie assured her that anyone who is retired now would be covered "until the end of their time" but that those currently in the workforce would have to pay more.
"There's a lot of emotion that goes along with this issue. But the facts are pretty simple. The facts are that this pension will go bankrupt if we don't make significant changes to it," he said.
After the event, Christie lingered, chatting with residents, posing for photos and largely ignoring those who continued to shout questions at him.