James Keady isn’t sitting down. And he definitely isn’t shutting up.
In fact, if he has it his way, the 43-year-old New Jersey resident – who was famously told last year to zip it by Gov. Chris Christie after Keady criticized the Republican’s Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts– will be standing up to vocalize his opinions under the same roof as the governor at the state house.
Keady has filed the paperwork to run as a Democrat for state assembly in New Jersey’s 30th District. Keady is an activist, former councilman, and ex-professional soccer player. He also has a prime platform and national visibility thanks to his exchange with Christie, which went viral.
But during an interview with msnbc at his Spring Lake home, Keady maintained that he wants to use his serendipitous perch to advocate for a slew of issues, including helping Hurricane Sandy victims still suffering in the aftermath of the 2012 storm and fixing the state’s beleaguered pension system. Keady, who lives in a borough that’s just blocks from the beach and known as the Irish Riviera for it’s large Irish-American population, says public workers need to be treated with “dignity and respect.”
Keady can relate. At what was supposed to be a ‘mission accomplished’ event in Belmar to mark the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy last October, Keady began to criticize Christie’s handling of the storm, holding a sign that said, “Get Sandy families back in their home – finish the job.”
The governor, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, warned that things would “get interesting and very fun” if he didn’t sit down—which Keady didn’t do. A clearly infuriated Christie then said, “I'd be more than happy to have a debate with you any time you like, guy, cause somebody like you doesn't know a damn thing about what you're talking about except to stand up and show off when the cameras are here," adding, "I've been here when the cameras aren't here, buddy, and done the work."
Christie also told Keady to "turn around, get your 15 minutes of fame and then maybe take your jacket off, roll up your sleeves and maybe do something for the people of this state … So listen, you want to have the conversation later, I'm happy to have it, buddy. But until that time, sit down and shut up."
Keady took umbrage, particularly, he says, because he has helped Sandy victims — for several weeks after the historic storm. And that got him thinking about running for office himself.
Keady is running unopposed in the Democratic primary in June, on the same ticket as Jimmy Esposito, who made a failed bid for the Assembly in 2013. He’s then likely to face the Republican-leaning district’s incumbents, Sean Kean and David Rible, both GOPers.
Assemblyman Kean told msnbc that he believes Keady is simply running for publicity and “not to achieve any benefit for Sandy victims but to achieve some type of notoriety by himself. At the end of the day I don’t believe his motives are necessarily to benefit the people of the district.”
Such rhetorical clashes with Christie and Kean aren’t exactly new for Keady. After landing a position as an assistant soccer coach at St. John University in 1997, he was forced to resign after refusing to wear Nike gear (the school had a sponsorship agreement with the athletic wear giant), in protest of how the manufacturer was treating its workers overseas. At the time, Keady was a theology student at St. John’s working on a project looking at how Nike’s practices clashed with the Roman Catholic view of social justice. After that, in 2000, he pursued the subject further, going to Indonesia and living off of $1.25 a day – and living in a slum with Nike workers for a month. He lost 25 pounds, slept on the floor and had frequent encounters with rats and cockroaches. He has said ending sweatshop labor is one of his life’s goals.
Another stir-the-pot moment: During his time as a city councilman in Asbury Park, from 2005-2008, he came under criticism when he tried to stop a city-funded reenactment of Christopher Columbus, an Italian-American hero, being greeted by Native Americans, arguing that Columbus led the genocide of the Arawaks and the city should not use public resources “to tell a sanitized version of history.” (Keady was outvoted and the reenactment happened anyway).
In his home, where a piece of artwork hangs of a woman holding a sign with the words “One day the poor will have nothing left to eat but the rich,” Keady, who currently runs the day-to-day operations at his family’s tavern in Waretown, N.J., acknowledged that he hasn’t exactly led a choir boy’s life. Instead, he says, he tells it how he sees it – perhaps ironically, the same trait Christie extolls about himself.
“I’m not going to hide who I am,” Keady said.