The all-female ticket of Buono and Milly Silva is a first for New Jersey and the third nationwide.
Silva, 43, is executive vice president of SEIU 1199, a private union representing 8,000 home health aides and nursing home workers. She wasted no time attacking her new opponent, claiming Christie's policies favor the wealthy at the expense of the middle and working classes. It's a theme Buono has hit repeatedly in her struggling campaign against the popular Republican.
"We live in a New Jersey where whatever Chris Christie says goes," Silva said in her first speech as lieutenant governor candidate. "That's not a leader. That's a bully."
Speaking at times in Spanish, Silva, who's of Puerto Rican descent, laid out a litany of criticisms against Christie: veto of $7.5 million for women's health care, failure to sign a Democratic-sponsored minimum-wage increase, cut of the earned income tax credit and more.
"Here's the bottom line," she said. "When the people of New Jersey have needed him most, Chris Christie has failed."
Buono introduced Silva as a like-minded woman and said she has "supreme confidence" in her abilities to lead.
"This is a woman whose fundamental beliefs align with this campaign's guiding principle - that a strong and vibrant New Jersey doesn't come from the top down but from a robust middle class," she said.
The addition of Silva to the ticket comes with a ready-made network of labor support and fundraising, which the campaign desperately needs. Buono had raised less than half the money that Christie had through a reporting deadline last month. Her total included public funds from a state matching program.
"The sky's the limit," said union President George Gresham. "We have the largest political action fund of all the labor unions in the country," he said.
The Christie campaign was quick to criticize the selection as a politically motivated calculation.
"For the most important decision Barbara Buono will make as a candidate, she has chosen an activist from a well-funded labor union who is wholly unqualified with no experience in government or public service," spokesman Kevin Roberts said. "More importantly, this pick shows the desperate lengths Barbara Buono will do to in order to prop up her flailing campaign with special interest support."
Buono said she and Silva, who are both from modest backgrounds and attended college with the help of student loans, share a "powerful bond - we're only here today because of hard work and determination - and because we were given a chance to lift ourselves up."
Silva, a mother of three young children who lives with her husband in Montclair, grew up in the Bronx. She was raised by a single mother from Puerto Rico, an attained a scholarship in seventh grade to attend a prestigious middle school an hour from home on public transportation. She began organizing workers, women, minorities and low-income wage earners at age 20.
The first in her family to earn a college degree, she is a graduate of Columbia University.
She will maintain her position with the union during the campaign.
Buono and Silva are challenging Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in the Nov. 5 election.