A vacationing public school teacher who told Gov. Chris Christie she felt betrayed by pension changes he signed in 2010 got an apology from the governor Wednesday in Ocean City.
Christie told Tia McLaughlin he was sorry he let her down by requiring teachers to pay more for their pensions and health care after promising to protect the benefits during the 2009 gubernatorial campaign.
"I'm sorry I disappointed you in that way," the governor said, after McLaughlin began to cry while explaining at a town hall event on the boardwalk how Christie's change in position hurt her.
McLaughlin said she's still stung by his 180-degree reversal from the open letter he wrote to teachers during the campaign.
In the letter, Christie accused his opponents of distorting his position on education and promised not to diminish teachers' benefits. A year later, he signed legislation increasing required pension and health care contributions.
McLaughlin, of Allentown, said she circulated Christie's letter to other teachers during the campaign and used it as the basis to vote for the Republican over Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who was known as a friend to labor unions.
Christie explained that he wrote the letter without knowing how seriously the state's pension and health benefits systems were underfunded. He said he wouldn't have written it if he had known the pension system was projected to go belly-up in a decade unless changes were made.
Afterward, McLaughlin, who works with learning disabled children in Howell Township, said she had not intended to engage the governor and said she felt that Christie's response was sincere.
Police and firefighter unions have also taken Christie to task for reversing positions on their benefits.
Christie's polite dialogue with McLaughlin was in stark contrast to infamous exchanges he's had with her union, the New Jersey Education Association.
He took teacher Marie Corfield to task in 2010, after she complained that Christie has dumped on public schools.
Christie denied it, but Corfield rolled her eyes and swung her head to the side during a town hall event in Flemington.
The governor was offended. "I stood here and very respectfully listened to you," he said. "If you want to put on a show and giggle every time I talk, I have no interest in answering your question."
Corfield later got involved in politics, winning a Democratic primary race in June for an unexpired term in the state Assembly in the 16th District.
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