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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Christie's Defamation of Schundler - A Failure to Communicate

Associated Press reports out of New Jersey Wednesday that former education commissioner Bret Schundler claims he was "defamed" by Governor Chris Christie when Christie said Schundler misled him about events leading to a horrible mistake in the state's application for federal education ("Race to the Top") funding, costing New Jersey some $400 million.

This illustrates not just a failure to communicate. It shows that the Christie Administration is very determined to defend its actions and avoid blame, and is willing to insult and offend an education commissioner whose professional abilities were severely questioned and whose political future may have been finished for good by this fiasco.

Now there's nothing wrong with wanting to preserve one's reputation. However, since the scandal broke there has been a very strong effort to deflect blame by both sides. The problem is that the determination to have the blame fall elsewhere was so strong that it resulted in an unnecessary public humiliation by Christie of Schundler.  Furthermore, this humiliation was likely to provoke (and perhaps was intended to provoke, and definitely succeeded in provoking) an equally strong defense from a man (a former gubernatorial candidate himself who may view Christie as his intellectual inferior and an unworthy ascendant to the governorship Schundler coveted) with every right to defend himself and who may actually be in the right on the facts.

The embarrassment of the lost funds could have been handled much more delicately, maturely -- and directly -- by the Christie Administration. Instead, we have two sides, each very eager to defend themselves at virtually all cost.

This episode calls into question the emotional intelligence quotient ("emotional IQ") of the decisionmakers within the Christie Administration, if not Christie himself. It calls into question the degree to which bluster and raw intimidation have been prized over intelligence, facts and hard work -- and perhaps that question applies not just while Christie has been Governor but also while he was U.S. Attorney between 2002-08.

As for Schundler, this is a proud and smart man who may be seething internally and ready to publicly blow up. An embarrassment during a slow news week in August may engender even worse consequences for Christie: an intraparty gubernatorial challenge from a revenge-seeking Schundler in 2013.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer and president of Eric Dixon LLC. He represents small business owners, entrepreneurs and individuals on various legal issues, handles crisis management, crisis emotional counseling and communications consulting for business and political leaders, in addition to litigation and investigation-related legal matters. He can be reached at edixon@NYBusinessCounsel.com and at 917-696-2442.

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