TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie chastised the Essex County executive for collecting a pension while continuing to draw a paycheck from the same six-figure job, but the governor stopped short of calling on his political ally to quit taking retirement benefits or return the money.
In his first meeting with reporters in more than a week on Monday, Christie was peppered with questions about Democratic powerbroker Joe DiVincenzo, who is collecting $68,856 in pension benefits on top of his $156,207 salary. A loophole in the public worker retirement system allowed DiVincenzo to retire without ever leaving his job as head of the county of 771,000 residents.
DiVincenzo is closely aligned with the GOP governor on many issues, including pension reform.
"I think it's wrong" Christie said of DiVincenzo's double-dipping. "It's not just wrong for him, it's wrong for all the other people who are doing it. That's why we asked for legislation to eliminate that loophole."
Christie then criticized the Democratic-controlled Legislature for not passing the law.
DiVincenzo quietly submitted his retirement papers in August while running for re-election, which he won.
Other beneficiaries of the loophole include Union County Sheriff Ralph Froehlich, who started collecting his pension in 1999, and Cape May County Surrogate W. Robert Hentges, "retired" since 1998, according to The Star-Ledger of Newark.
Christie has been a harsh critic of dual officeholding, has pressured executives of independent authorities and commissions from their jobs and reined in school superintendents who earn more than he does — $175,000 a year.
However, Christie said DiVincenzo would "have to decide for himself" whether to defer his pension while continuing to work.
Christie said he conveyed his feelings privately to DiVincenzo and pressed for others who are doing the same thing to "self-report."
DiVincenzo issued a statement Monday saying he contributed toward the retirement fund for 29 years "and followed the law when I decided to begin drawing my pension. This was a personal decision that was in the best interests of my family," he said.
Christie called DiVincenzo "very influential" — Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver works for him in Essex County — and said their professional relationship would not suffer because of the revelation.
"I've got to work with him," Christie said. "Do you think I have the luxury of stopping to work with public officials who do stuff I don't agree with? I'd be sitting there by myself."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.