“I don’t consider myself a wealthy man,” Chris Christie said Friday in New Hampshire. That would be the same Chris Christie who, according to his tax returns, made $698,838 in 2013—$160,054 of which he earned as governor of New Jersey, and $475,854 of which came from his wife, Mary Pat Christie, who works at a New York investment bank.
Christie isn’t rich if you’re comparing him to his friends and donors, and he certainly may not feel rich in New Jersey, where his own policies have made living more expensive.
But it turns out that feeling just makes Christie exactly like many other technically rich people: not very self-aware.
So why does Christie feel so poor?
He offered his own explanation on Friday: “Listen, wealth is defined in a whole bunch of different ways, and in the end, Mary Pat and I have worked really hard, we’ve done well over the course of our lives—um, but, you know, we have four children to raise and a lot of things to do, so, no, I don’t, I don’t consider myself and I don’t think most people think of me that way.”
Perhaps Christie doesn’t feel rich because compared to his friends and the lifestyle he enjoys in their company, he’s not.
The economic class with the greatest income inequality is the upper class, because it encompasses everyone earning $250,000 or more. Were Christie to look around, he might feel very poor indeed.
He has flown on private planes provided by Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets, Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner and Republican donor, and Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. And he has been the guest of King Abdullah of Jordan—“a friend,” an aide told The New York Times—who put him and his family up for a weekend in a hotel with rooms costing $30,000 a night.
And compared to the perks Christie can enjoy when the government is footing the bill, he must not feel very rich at all when trying to live on his own income.
As the United States Attorney, a 2010 Justice Department report found, Christie exceeded his travel budget on 14 out of 23 trips he took. He preferred to stay at the Four Seasons while in Washington, and the Nine Zero Hotel in Boston—both costing several hundred dollars per night.
Christie also shunned normal methods of transportation like cabs or the subway, according to the same Justice Department report, once taking a private car from the Boston airport four miles to his hotel, at a cost of $263.
“I try to squeeze all the juice out of the orange that I can,” Christie told The New York Times in 2014. “I really relish these experiences and exposures, especially for my kids.” In other words, Christie would like to scale back government spending—except on himself.
Or maybe Christie doesn’t feel rich because even the rich find it difficult to live in New Jersey, where residents have been fleeing in droves under his watch. According to NJ Spotlight, during Christie’s first three years in office, net property taxes rose 18.6 percent. (Information regarding property taxes beyond his first three years in office is difficult to come by, because it’s now a state secret: In March 2014, Christie’s administration altered the way it distributes data about property taxes, making it harder to tell what people pay.)
Christie is not the only rich person in denial about being rich—it’s something of a phenomenon.
A 2011 Gallup study found that people earning over $250,000 a year (i.e. rich people) were utterly confused about their taxes.
The majority of them believed they were being taxed too much, but the majority of them also believed that “upper-income people” (i.e. them) were paying either their fair share or not enough in taxes.
In January of this year, The New York Times’ Josh Barro wrote an article wherein he criticized the “merely affluent” (people he defined as having family incomes around $175,000) for “pleading poverty and putting themselves off limits for tax increases.” The result was a tsunami of furor from readers making $175,000—or well beyond that—who told him they were “barely scraping by” or are “definitely middle class.”
Still, Christie must be aware his claim that “most people” don’t “think of me that way” cannot be believed by those operating entirely within the realm of reality. For as long as Christie has been in politics, his personal wealth has been a topic of discussion.
In 1994, Christie was elected to his first office: Morris County Freeholder. Christie won that race by funneling $60,000 of his own cash into it. The following year, when Christie was running for the state Assembly, his opponent, incumbent Anthony Bucco, made Christie’s wealth a talking point. “If all you need to be a legislator is a lot of money and uncontrolled ambition,” Bucco told The Daily Record, “I think the state is in trouble.”