Christie Project Criticized for Last-Minute Press Release Edit


Yes, we know you’ve heard more than enough about Chris Christie lately.

This mention of the embattled Jersey governor is relevant, though, because it concerns a small but potentially important edit to a press release.

The story revolves around a senior center built in Jersey’s Essex County in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. According to a report published last week by the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Christie diverted $6M in federal recovery funds to the project despite the fact that the surrounding area “was not particularly hard hit”. The key justification for this funding was that the project would house seniors from nearby towns who had been displaced by the storm.

And that’s where the press release comes in.

As Salon reports, the original release from the building’s developer includes the sentence “As an added benefit, a portion of the units will be available to assist senior citizens affected by Hurricane Sandy.”

Therein lies the justification for the federal funds. The language changed in a last-minute final draft, however (emphasis ours):

“Since the project is located in one of the nine counties most impacted by Sandy, the project may assist senior citizens affected by the storm.”

It’s a small but significant change. A definite promise to affected out-of-town seniors became conditional via the word “may”, and the final sentence muddies the purpose of this project: was it built to aid in Sandy recovery by providing new apartments for displaced residents or to benefit a town that suffered minimal damage? Both reports note that Christie did not mention the storm at the project’s unveiling ceremony, which focused “almost exclusively on how the 137-unit housing project would help keep Belleville’s seniors in town.”

The Star-Ledger goes further by mentioning that the (Democratic) mayor of the town in question formally endorsed Christie for re-election two weeks after the project received approval.

The unsubstantiated implication is that this case is a mirror image of the George Washington Bridge controversy: a favor rewarded with an endorsement. The mayor even credited his team’s “rapport with the governor” for getting the project off the ground after years of stalled negotiations.

Now, Salon and the Star-Ledger are hardly Christie’s biggest fans, so readers may take this report with a grain of partisan salt. But it’s still a good example of how a simple linguistic tweak can make a big difference in terms of messaging.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.