Beyond New Jersey’s borders, Gov. Chris Christie’s post-Hurricane Sandy motives have been a topic of debate.
His embrace of President Barack Obama following his arrival in New Jersey after the storm drew jeers from hardline Republicans concerned with the image it would present so close to the election.
Some on the left have even intimated that the handshake, delivered soon after New Jersey was hit by the most devastating storm in its history, and as millions of residents remained without power, was a calculated move on Christie’s part that could lead to him throwing his hat in the ring for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 Presidential election.
None of it matters, Christie said to a standing room only audience at Belmar’s municipal center late Thursday afternoon. Politics aside, every decision he’s made in response to Hurricane Sandy, and every decision he’s going to make as the state begins its long road toward recovery, will be in the best interest of New Jersey.
“I’m going to be a governor that’s going to lead in a bipartisan way,” he told the crowd.
Belmar played host to Christie’s 99th town hall meeting, his first since Hurricane Sandy hit. Christie began the meeting by offering a bit of perspective about the historical impact the storm has had on New Jersey and the importance of building back better than ever.
Christie fielded questions from the public about his grand – but not so grand to Christie – political aspirations, charter school facility funding, and even the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. The topic most on the minds of those who attended Thursday’s town hall meeting, however, focused squarely on the “what nows” following Sandy.
Much of New Jersey’s restoration plans are tied to a $60.4 billion aid bill currently being discussed in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, he said. Christie said the bill, which would aid restoration efforts in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, though primarily the latter two, represents not only what’s fair, but what’s right.
With legislators mired in budget planning ahead of the anticipated fiscal cliff, Christie said he understands why some elected officials have lost site of what’s important, taking care of the country’s citizens.
“They can return to bickering once they are done with the first responsibility of government, which is the protection of the lives and public property of (the country’s) citizens,” he said, adding that bill represents a reasonable request following assessment of damage in the three states. “We need them to pass it.”
Senate Republicans have countered with a $23.8 billion Sandy aid package, nearly a third of what Obama requested, though it’s unlikely to stick. Christie said he’s concerned that political posturing and partisan politics could delay states from getting the disaster relief in time. He urged Senate and Congressional leaders to pass the original aid bill quickly, saying it will allow states to implement restoration efforts at the start of the New Year.
In all, Christie said 346,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in Hurricane Sandy. And while the Federal Emergency Management Agency has deployed some temporary housing in New Jersey and continues to provide aid in the way of rental assistance to those who have lost their homes, Christie said the need for shelter hasn’t been that great in New Jersey.
Doors have been opened and wallets emptied to help those in need.
“The conscience, the spirits, and the soul of this state is in its families,” he said.
Though Christie exuded a high level of confidence throughout the town hall, cheering on recovery after entering the gymnasium to clips of his speaking over storm footage all set to music from Bruce Springsteen, he did pause to reflect following a question from a young Belmar student.
She asked the governor if he would change any of his decisions in his response to Hurricane Sandy. Christie said he regrets not being stronger in his evacuation order prior to the storm’s arrival. Before Hurricane Irene approached New Jersey last year, Christie famously told residents and visitors alike to “get the hell off the beach.” With Irene not nearly as severe as anticipated, Christie said he had reservations about being as forceful this time around.
“I ordered the evacuation but I didn’t yell as much as I had the year before,” he said, later adding: “We lost lives as a result and that weighs on me.”