Gov. Chris Christie kicked off his re-election campaign Tuesday with an endorsement from a major labor union, hoping to show his support extends beyond his Republican base to groups that traditionally back Democrats.
Holding hands with his wife, Mary Pat, Christie accepted an endorsement from the Laborers' International Union of North America during a raucous rally at a training center for Laborers Local 472 in Aberdeen, in Monmouth County.
In giving Christie its support, the 20,000-member union cited his creation of union jobs by reviving major building projects that had stalled _ including Revel casino in Atlantic City and a planned megamall in the Meadowlands.
Raymond Pocino, the union's eastern regional manager, said the construction industry had been hit hard by the recession, with unemployment hovering around 50 percent in some sectors. Pocino said key job creators included Christie's reauthorization of the Transportation Trust Fund, which would pump $5 billion into infrastructure investments, including roads, rails, bridges and ports, and the governor's approval of the Higher Education Bond Act, which commits $1 billion toward improving state colleges and universities.
"This is a guy who is straight with us and tells it like it is,'' Pocino said. ``He knows this is not a game; this is people's lives.''
Pocino also serves as a commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a position that Gov. James McGreevy appointed him to in 2002 and Christie re-nominated him for this year. The position is unpaid, according to an agency's spokesman.
Pocino said Tuesday that his union had endorsed both Democratic and Republican candidates in the past, including former Gov. Christie Whitman.
Christie told the packed union assembly that he had grown up as ``a kid from the streets of Newark'' and stood for New Jersey residents who believed in ``an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.''
"You were the ones who carried on your backs the weight of the awful decisions that governors before me made,'' Christie told workers. ``I am not going to allow, as governor, one group of people to put too much of a burden on the back of people who are struggling to support their own families.''
Although some private-sector labor organizations have warmed to him, Christie has had a cool relationship with public-sector unions like the New Jersey Education Association.
He's also angered some public employee unions, who mobilized at the Capitol in Trenton to protest the passage of a law requiring workers to pay sharply more for pension and health benefits and suspending bargaining over health care.
"You want good health benefits? You got to pay for it. You want a good retirement? You got to pay for it,'' Christie said at Tuesday's rally. ``They can't expect you to pay for it. Everyone's got to chip in. That's what you do -- that's what the rest of the state needs to do.''
Christie also ran afoul of unions for canceling construction of a new rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, known as the ARC, which he claimed would have left New Jersey on the hook for 70 percent of the cost.
An independent congressional report released in April differed with Christie's math, saying the state would have only been responsible for about 14 percent of the project's costs, a figure Christie continues to dispute.
Pocino was among the union leaders upset at Christie for canceling the ARC tunnel, which was projected to create thousands of jobs. Pocino said Tuesday that despite that disagreement, he still felt Christie was the best man to lead New Jersey.
"If you're going to wait to endorse somebody that agrees with you 100 percent of the time, you're not going to endorse anybody,'' Pocino said.