A kindergarten teacher on Tuesday urged Gov. Chris Christie to tone down his combative style, warning the potential presidential contender that his temper wouldn't play well across the country.
Christie, who built his national reputation as a straight-talker unafraid to mince words, said in part that people are looking for honesty in their leaders and that people will always know what he thinks.
During a town hall at a high school, Cheryl Meyer, 45, told Christie that she'd had trouble explaining to her students why it was fine for the man who holds the highest office in the state to use words like "shut up" and "idiot" when they can't.
"How do you defend that?" she asked.
The governor sounded an introspective note, thanking Meyer for her question and talking about how everyone has had interactions in which they'd wish they'd said something differently — though not everybody's response wound up on the news. He said that, as a public official, he finds that people are constantly trying to push his buttons and that rarely — though sometimes — they succeed.
Sometimes, Christie told the audience, it's by choice. "Sometimes I just want to do it," he said, adding that he knows to expect grief from his wife when he gets home.
Other times, he said, "you just have a bad day."
"I'm trying to get better every day," he later said.
But even if he tries to limit his blow-ups, he said, he'll never become "vanilla" or say things only because it's what people want to hear.
"I think we've had too much of people in public life pretending to be something," he said, adding that, if it turns out his style isn't voters' cup of tea, he'll understand.
Among those in the audience was Jim Keady, the man Christie famously told to "sit down and shut up" at an event last year. Keady, who is now running for state assembly, said he found Christie's answer to Meyer unconvincing.
"Of course you have the urge. You're a human being. ... But it's called self-control, it's called respect for your office," Keady said.
Christie built his national reputation as a straight-talker unafraid to mince words. He has struggled with the perception that what plays well in northeastern New Jersey won't work well in early-voting states like South Carolina and Iowa where voters aren't used to such brashness.
Christie has been holding town hall events across New Jersey, pressing his proposal to further overhaul the state's pension and health benefit system for public workers. He's set conduct two town halls next week in New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first primary.