TRENTON, N.J. - Governor Chris Christie, who once urged reporters to “take the bat out’’ on a 76-year- old legislator, called union leaders “political thugs,’’ and a lawmaker “numbnuts,’’ is saying he is sorry for his latest remarks.
While brash comments have helped make the New Jersey governor a national political figure, his remarks about the civil-rights movement in the 1960s angered supporters and have become fodder for political rivals.
That may cost Christie support for his proposals, backed by some black clergy and politicians, to overhaul urban education and increase the number of charter schools, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.
“It’s possible that he’s gone off the rails a bit too much,’’ Murray said Tuesday.
Christie, 49, a Republican, was accused of ignorance by black leaders after responding last week to Democratic lawmakers’ statements that gay marriage is a civil right and therefore should not be put before voters as a ballot question.
In a radio appearance Tuesday night he apologized for the remark.
“People would have been happy with a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets of the South,’’ Christie told reporters Jan. 24 in Bridgewater.
The comments brought Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, and veteran of the civil-rights movement, to Trenton.
They also drew criticism from Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, a black Democrat who has allied with the governor on efforts to improve urban schooling.
“Apparently, the governor of this state has not read his recent history books,’’ Lewis, 71, said in Trenton, the capital of a state where 13.7 percent of residents are black, almost 1 percentage point more than the US average.
“I fought too long and too hard against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up and speak out against discrimination based on sexual orientation,’’ he said.
“If anybody was offended by what I said, and if they’re listening out there, I apologize,’’ Christie said Tuesday night during his monthly “Ask the Governor’’ radio show. “I wasn’t clear enough. I absolutely wasn’t.’’
The governor has “voiced regret before on some things he’s said,’’ Michael Drewniak, his spokesman, said in an e-mail. “I am not going to definitively characterize any of those remarks on his behalf.’’
Christie said that while he was willing to apologize for his civil-rights remark, he would not do the same for his use of “numbnuts.’’ He said his mother used to use the name for him.
Democrats in New Jersey made same-sex marriage a priority for 2012. They vowed to push the measure through the Legislature, even though Christie has said he is not a fan of the idea.