WEST ORANGE, N.J. — Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who received just a quarter of the Essex County vote when he ran for office in 2009, collected endorsements from the county's top elected Democrat, a dozen black clergy and five mayors Tuesday.
County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and the others became the latest in a string of Democrats to jump party lines to endorse Christie's re-election bid against Democrat Barbara Buono, a state senator from Metuchen.
DiVincenzo cited Christie's embrace of President Barack Obama during Superstorm Sandy last year and his criticism of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner over inaction on getting aid for Sandy victims as moments that won him over.
"That's when I made up my mind that Gov. Chris Christie, no question, needed to be re-elected," said DiVincenzo.
The county executive, who backed Democrat Jon Corzine against Christie four years ago, said he forged a friendship and partnership with the governor beginning the day after Christie won office. The two met the day after the election at a Newark charter school, and they appeared together recently at a Turtle Back Zoo fundraiser.
DiVincenzo, who met twice with Buono in the earliest days of her campaign, said Tuesday that he hadn't spoken to her in months. Buono, who has struggled within her own party to gain traction, is engaged in an intraparty fight over who will be the next Democratic State Committee chair that will be decided this week. The party chairmanship is a post traditionally selected by the party's gubernatorial nominee.
Polls show Christie with a large lead.
Christie also collected endorsements from black pastors who praised the governor for reaching across party lines, and from Democratic mayors in Essex County who credited him with stabilizing property tax growth.
Joe Carter, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, said despite that some said it was risky for a black Democrat to back Christie, endorsing the governor was an easy choice.
"We have an opportunity ... to send a message across Essex County, throughout the state of New Jersey, that prayerfully, hopefully the whole country is watching, to see that people can cross lines, despite party, despite race, people can come together and move past differences to make sure we do not what's best for our party, but what's best for the people," he said.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin, who is part of a group that has been meeting periodically with the governor's office since The Associated Press reported last year that the New York Police Department was spying on New Jersey Muslims, was among those on hand to endorse Christie.
"The governor has shown a genuine commitment for rebuilding the bridge of trust between the Muslim community, law enforcement and his administration, as well as assuring us that we are as much residents of the state of New Jersey as anyone else," he said.
Buono's campaign didn't directly address the latest Democratic defections when asked to comment. Instead, it cited prior restaurant tabs of thousands of dollars run up by DiVincenzo at McLoone's Boathouse, the location of Tuesday's event, and paid for with campaign funds, according to The Star-Ledger of Newark.