Week 2 – Governor Chris Christie and Adventures at Drumthwacket

By: Deblina Mukherjee

Deblina and other interns with Governor Chris Christie

I’ll be entering my freshman year at the University of Chicago this fall, and while I have been active in my high school’s Model United Nations and Youth and Government, I never thought that I would be interning for the nation’s most powerful governor in New Jersey Governor Chris Christie the summer before going off to college!

I was able to meet and speak with Governor Christie directly during my second week of the New Jersey Leadership Program’s Summer Fellowship, and what an experience it has been. We met with the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff on Monday, but had no idea what would be in store for the following day, when we would meet the governor himself. He has had a tough previous couple of weeks, with the shutdown of the New Jersey government, his use of the State Police helicopter for a radio audition, the sentencing of one of the last Bridgegate co-conspirators, and the ongoing Christie beach chair memes. So it is fair to say that the image that the media and others have painted of Governor Christie wasn’t exactly the rosiest one, and I didn’t know what to expect from him.

NJLP Fellows with Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr.

So the day came, with all the interns in the governor’s office patiently waiting and with one fell swoop, Governor Christie entered the room. From the start, he was kind, funny and affable. He took his time in speaking with us, shaking our hands and getting to know us, as we did him. We got to ask him questions, and he spoke to us about one of the most prolific moments in the 2012 Presidential Election with President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney — the infamous “hug” with President Obama at the airport tarmac. The governor protested that it wasn’t a hug, but it was too late and the media’s perspective already impressed into the public domain. He told us what it was like during Superstorm Sandy and working out of the crisis control room with all of his relevant cabinet members, watching the horrific scene of homes being destroyed and authorities pulling deceased bodies out of buildings. It was quite an experience meeting and hearing from Governor Christie, and I took much away from that unique experience.

My week didn’t end there — later that week, we took a trip down to the official Governor’s
Mansion, Drumthwacket. We toured the lavish building, which given that the governor doesn’t officially reside there, has been transformed into somewhat of a museum. It was beautiful and I learned so much about the history of New Jersey, the governorship, and so much more. The icing on the cake was that we were allowed to take souvenirs in the form of napkins emblazoned with the official Governor and Drumthwacket seals!

Superior Court Judge Peter Barnes talks to fellows about his career path.

My day-to-day responsibilities are a bit more tame compared to the experience we had this week. Usually I sit at my computer in the governor’s office, reading our daily press briefings, calling individuals and groups on the governor’s contact lists, and compiling legal ad prices. I’m learning about policy, how government functions, and the nuances of politics. I’m working on a hot issue from a couple months back, that of legal ad prices, which I have gotten very interested in. So essentially, every time the local board of education has a meeting or the county sheriff puts a piece of land for sell, these government entities are mandated by law to place an announcement in the local newspaper so that residents and taxpayers know about it. The governor’s suggestion, to move these announcements online, would save the state government $80 million according to him, while the Press Association claims it would save only $20 million. While my work forces me to get into the nitty-gritty details of this issue, and many others, I love the work that I do in the governor’s office.

Selfie time with Middlesex County Freeholder Kenneth Armwood

After the incredible week I had at my internship placement, it was time for our NJLP Speakership Series on Saturday. This week’s theme was on “Government.” We had an incredible schedule of speakers lined up, including elected and appointed officials such as Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr., New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter Barnes, and Middlesex County Freeholder Kenneth Armwood. The last speakers were part of our government panel, which included U.S Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman’s Congressional Aide Petra Gaskins, the Director of Planning for Governor Christie Ishan Shah, and the Legislative Director for Assemblyman Craig Coughlin and Woodbridge Board of Education Member Daniel Harris. We learned about how these public servants entered politics and how their careers flourished by keeping the public good as their top priority.

While our experience in New Jersey politics hasn’t exactly been like House of Cards, it has been very exciting and we’re learning so much about government, politics and our home state. I’m excited to experience what the rest of our four weeks of the NJLP Summer Fellowship has to hold and looking forward to our field trip to Washington, D.C. this week!

NJLP Government Panel with Director of Planning for Governor Chris Christie Ishan Shah, Congressional Aide for U.S. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman Petra Gaskins, and Legislative Director for Assemblyman Craig Coughlin and Woodbridge Board of Education Member Daniel Harris.