When Gov. Christopher Christie stepped out of his black SUV in The Plaza section of Secaucus on Sept. 17, he wasn’t merely doing a campaign stop, but stepping into a big part of the town’s long history.
Although Christie was honoring his promise to come back to Secaucus after the mayor and council endorsed his reelection, he was also paying homage to public service and small business, encouraging hundreds of people who crowded the teen center on Front Street to give back to their community.
Christie came to Secaucus shortly after an appearance in Newark where he helped celebrate the new Panasonic national headquarters opening. Panasonic relocated from Secaucus to Newark to take advantage of state business incentives.
Secaucus officials, however, greeted Christie with great enthusiasm; as the governor greeted Michael Marra outside of Marra’s Drug store and then took a short walk up Front Street where crowds of people cheered him on.
“It’s about the person, not the party; It’s about getting the job done.” – Christopher Christie
No stranger in a Democratic county
Pausing to pose for pictures with people from the community, Christie acknowledged the fact that he was visiting a community in a Democratic county.
“It’s about the person, not the party,” he said. “It’s about getting the job done.”
Known for his love of food, Christie stopped at Filomena's deli on Front Street, where he posed with the owner and workers (and later apparently also accepted a sandwich), and then moved on to the teen center where he briefly addressed a gathering of students, scouts, and others
Christie said the community service is a key part of what makes places like Secaucus work, and he said that they should consider giving a part of their lives to the benefit of others.
He said being elected governor of the state where he was born is one of the greatest honors of his life.
“I love this job,” he said. “And I’m happy working for you.”
He said that if something like this could happen to him, it can happen for anyone who wants to succeed in life.
“But there are two things you need. You have to keep your integrity and you have to work hard,” he said.
He said that people who give back to their community truly make a difference in other people’s lives.
Mayor Michael Gonnelli and the Town Council endorsed Christie for reelection in July, citing a number of reasons, not the least of which was the help Christie gave Secaucus after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy last fall. Christie also helped the Secaucus budget by reducing significantly the town’s payment to the Meadowlands tax sharing pool, and with promises that a more permanent solution would be found in the future.
Although the Town Council is primarily Democratic, Secaucus has strong Republican roots when voting in presidential and gubernatorial elections. Two of the current council members are registered Republicans, although all are running as independents in the upcoming November municipal elections.
Gonnelli and his ticket – which does not include Deputy Mayor John Bueckner, who is retiring from politics after 20 years – are running unopposed.
In July, Christie told Gonnelli he would return to Secaucus to walk the streets and meet the people.
“I lived up to that promise,” he told the crowd on Sept. 17. “We have seven weeks left in the campaign and I’ll be back here before election day.”
A visit to Secaucus’ past
Christie’s visiting Marra’s Drug was no fluke.
If any institution represents the core values of Secaucus, Marra’s Drugs does. Not only was Sept. 17 Michael Marra’s 90th birthday, but in October the store also celebrates its 90th anniversary.
The store’s founder, Gerard A. Marra Sr., came to America as an infant. Born in 1896, he grew up in the "Horseshoe" section of Jersey City. At 11 years old, he began to work in a pharmacy. By 16, he was already assisting in filling prescriptions.
The young Marra sold newspapers in old Pennsylvania Station to help pay his way through Rutgers College of Pharmacy in Newark. After graduation, he served in the U.S. Army's Medical Corps during World War I. In 1923, at the suggestion of his friend Albert Buchmuller – for whom Buchmuller Park was named – Marra moved to Secaucus and started what was then called "Peerless Drug Store."
Secaucus was a farming community then and had a population of about 4,000 people.
He was not the only pharmacist in town or even the biggest, said his son Gerard, but the elder Marra was a hard worker.
In October 1929, the Stock Market collapsed. As with everywhere else, the Great Depression put many people out of work. The elder Marra kept the store open during the years that followed from 9 a.m. to midnight seven days a week. He had a buzzer near the door so that in case of an emergency someone could ring for help.
During his visit, Christie took a brief tour of Marra’s and greeted its staff, clearly impressed by the ability of a small business to thrive after nearly a century. Christie is a strong advocate of small businesses throughout the state.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.