BY JONATHAN V. LAST –
Doug Cabana has known Chris Christie for a long time. We’re standing in a ballroom at the welcome party for the New Jersey delegation, and Cabana is explaining to me how he was elected to the county board in Morris County two years after Christie had won a seat. “I’ve known him for 16 years,” Cabana says. “We were both freeholders,” as board members are called. “Now I’m still a freeholder and he’s”—Cabana gestures across the room at Christie, who’s mobbed by cameras, reporters, and Jerseyites—“well, he’s here.” Cabana flashes a smile that’s neither wistful nor bittersweet. It’s full of pride.
Short and compact, with short blond hair and a tough-guy face, Cabana could pass for a state trooper. (Which is close—in his day job, he’s a prosecutor.) Sixteen years is a lot of time, but Cabana thinks Christie is basically unchanged. “The Chris now is the Chris then,” he says. “Exactly the same. The strong persona was there. He always spoke his mind, even then. You always knew where Chris was coming from.”
Christie was on a reform mission from the beginning. He waged his first campaign on the idea of reform and put in place ethics guidelines in Morris County that are still on the books. A young man in a hurry, Christie tried unseating an incumbent Republican in the state assembly a few years later and lost. To drive home the message that the party did not appreciate his vigor, county Republicans then recruited a candidate to run against Christie for his freeholder seat. Christie lost, and his political career looked for a moment like it might be finished.