WASHINGTON -- Some NAACP delegates were furious that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was invited to speak at the state conference's annual membership event on Saturday, saying Christie's appearance was merely for show, The Star-Ledger reports.
In his first address to the organization since he took office in 2010, Christie focused on bail reform and legislation passed last year that eliminated the requirement for New Jersey job applicants to disclose their criminal history.
But Deborah Gregory, president of the NAACP's Newark chapter, was one of a number of NAACP officials unhappy with the governor's presence. The Star-Ledger reports that Gregory stood outside the venue on Saturday protesting Christie's appearance. She told the paper that the governor did not deserve to be invited.
"He has not availed himself for any type of dialogue with this or any other branches concerning his policies," Gregory wrote in an open letter to the NAACP, according to The Star-Ledger. "To have him serve as keynote speaker is to simply listen without question."
Darnell Hardwick and Colandus Francis, NAACP delegates from Camden, New Jersey, told The Star-Ledger that the decision to invite Christie was made by Richard Smith, president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, and by the organization's executive committee. Hardwick said he objected to the way that Christie took over Camden's schools last year and added that he wouldn't have attended the event if he'd known Christie would be speaking.
"He's abolished our school district. He's disenfranchised 77,000 people of color," Francis told The Star-Ledger. "We no longer can vote for our school board, like all the other cities ... So, Chris Christie? As keynote speaker? Everything he's done is completely contrary to what our organization has fought for."
Francis added to his criticism of the governor in an interview with The Huffington Post on Sunday.
"Governor Christie's been going around portraying himself as a savior of the city of Camden, but he's decimated our police department, taken over our school district, eliminated our board of education," Francis told HuffPost. "Where the rest of the state has a school board that they vote for and are accountable to the voters, we have a one-person superintendent who's only accountable to the governor."
"I was angry," Francis added. "There's no way in hell I'm gonna sit there and listen to him after what he did to my city, what he's done to me as a resident."
Even Smith, despite having invited Christie to the event, challenged the governor on several issues, including the number of African-American judges in the state's courts, in remarks prior to Christie's address. Smith described Christie's appearance as "a long overdue dialogue between your office and our organization" and urged the governor to work closely with the NAACP.
Christie, for his part, defended his work with the organization and said that he had defied the political expectation that a Republican governor could not find common ground with the NAACP on any issue.
Christie's appearance at the event was one in a series of recent incidents where Republicans and possible 2016 presidential contenders have made overtures to black voters and other voters of color. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a potential 2016 rival to Christie for the Republican presidential nomination, has criticized stringent voter ID requirements that disproportionately affect black voters. Paul has also supported restoring voting rights to some ex-convicts, a move that he said in June could help endear him to minority communities.
Some observers have cited Christie as a model for the GOP in terms of minority outreach, pointing to the support he received from voters of color in his successful re-election bid last year. But Christie has also taken a tepid stance on some controversial race-related issues. Asked in August about the protests in Ferguson, Missouri that began after Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, Christie demurred.
"I'm not going to get into this business of generalizing against law enforcement officers. It's not right," he said, according to New Jersey Public Radio. "Whatever happened in Ferguson, we have a justice system in this country that will be able to make that judgment and if there are people who need to be held accountable I'm confident they will be."
In Gregory's view, Christie's appearance at Saturday's NAACP event was simply for show.
"The governor could've had a meeting in Trenton, and had all the branch presidents come," she told The Star-Ledger. "If he was really sincere, he'd say, 'OK, I want to have dialogue with you. Put your issues on the table. Let's talk.' Not this. This is a dog and pony show."
Watch Christie's full speech above.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed the quote in the sixth paragraph to Hardwick. The remarks were actually made by Francis.