NEW YORK — Facing the worst political crisis of his career, Governor Chris Christie told the voters of New Jersey on Tuesday that they deserved better.
“The last week has certainly tested this administration. Mistakes were clearly made. And as a result, we let down the people we are entrusted to serve,” he said at the opening of his State of the State address. “I know our citizens deserve better. Much better.”
He said the wave of disconcerting disclosures last week — that members of his staff and his appointees had sought to punish local officials who had not supported his reelection campaign last year — “does not define us or our state.”
The speech provided Christie’s first public remarks since his apology Thursday, when he appeared in a televised news conference to say he was a “heartbroken” man who accepted responsibility for his staff’s role in closing traffic lanes to the George Washington Bridge. The closings led to gridlocked streets in Fort Lee, N.J., for four days last September and an explosive political scandal for Christie.
“I am the governor, and I am ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch — both good and bad,” he said.
He then sought to move the conversation forward, citing his accomplishments over the past four years.
“This administration and this Legislature will not allow the work that needs to be done to improve the people’s lives in New Jersey to be delayed for any reason,” he said. “I am the leader of this state and its people, and I stand here today proud to be both. But also, those of you who know me, know I am always determined to do better.”
He outlined plans to extend the school day, lower taxes for homeowners, and reduce urban crime.
The level of detail was a marked change from his remarks last year, when he spent two-thirds of his speech recalling the toll Hurricane Sandy had taken on the state, with tales of individual fortitude largely taking the place of policy initiatives.
In contrast to previous years, his office this year released a copy of his prepared remarks in advance, an attempt to focus attention on matters other than the political drama.
But with Christie’s administration facing both federal and state inquiries, questions about the ways his administration has used the power of the state to punish political rivals are unlikely to go away any time soon.
Just before the speech, the state Democratic Party released a video attacking the governor. After playing clips of comedians mocking Christie, the words “The State of the State?” appear on screen. The answer: “Embarrassed.”
Even as he remained under siege by opponents and new disclosures about the lane closings threatened to overwhelm other initiatives, Christie, who is believed to have presidential aspirations, said the state must move past political division, and called for a renewed spirit of bipartisanship.
It is an optimistic message with obvious appeal to a national audience but it most likely sounded jarring to many Democrats closer to home, due to the scandal last week.
In the State of the State address he delivered last year, Christie basked in adulation for his performance after Hurricane Sandy, projecting himself as “America’s governor.”
This year, Christie argued that his recent travails should not overshadow a four-year record of working well with officials from both parties.