MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Six people who tried to disrupt a town hall meeting hosted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were ejected from the building in what became the governor’s most raucous community gathering in the weeks since his administration became ensnared in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal.
Police removed one protester, Rowan University student Michael Brein, after he began shouting about supposed inequities in the distribution of Superstorm Sandy aid.
Christie tried ignoring Brein by turning his back on him. When that didn’t work, the Republican governor reeled around, telling Brein to sit down or be thrown out.
Local police escorted Brein from the building, and five others were shown the door after yelling about the political retribution scandal and other matters. The disruption appeared to have been loosely coordinated by citizens’ groups that have opposed Christie’s housing and tax policies.
The hecklers were not arrested and no charges would be filed, state police said.
Outside, the somewhat rumpled, unshaven 19-year-old Brein said he expected Christie wouldn’t call on him because of how he looks. He spouted a litany of anti-Christie complaints, including that the town halls are staged affairs in Republican-controlled areas that are inaccessible to most people because they are held during work hours.
At the event, Christie told the crowd that the hecklers wanted attention, pointing to the 13 television cameras and score of reporters covering the event.
The intended focus of the town hall, state spending, was largely overshadowed. The governor did announce that average property tax bills, already the nation’s highest, rose a relatively modest 1.7 percent last year, which he said is evidence that his policies are working.
Christie has returned to his signature town halls in recent weeks as he tries to shake the scandal and investigations that are dogging his administration and raising questions about his chances in a potential 2016 presidential race. The venues have been carefully scouted by the administration, and the events have mostly occurred without incident, until Thursday’s, his most disruptive yet.
Re-elected last fall, Christie became known during his first term as liable to pick a fight during town halls. He famously called a Navy SEAL an idiot during a shouting match and tangled with a public school teacher who was inspired by the event to run for Congress. His staff circulated many of these moments in YouTube videos.
Security appeared to be ramped up for Thursday’s town hall as well. Attendees were screened with wands, and the auditorium was ringed with local and state police, both in uniform and plainclothes.
Such security is not extraordinary with town hall crowds usually exceeding 500 people, said Capt. Stephen Jones of the New Jersey State Police.
Despite the disruptions, the audience remained mostly supportive; some booed the disrupters.
Skip Brockner of Collingswood, a retired truck driver who Christie called on to ask the final question, began by apologizing for the demonstrators.
“They could have done it more politely,” he said.
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