South Jersey Shore Town Residents Slam Christie Over Storm Response

Chris Christie said in 2012 that it was important to tour flooded areas after Sandy. After this winter storm, he went right back to campaigning Monday.

We got a lot of snow over the weekend. But the Winter Storm of 2010 was just as big. It dropped between 12 and 32 inches in the Northeast. New Jersey got slammed with snow.

Chris Christie was in Disney World. It was his first year in office; he had planned a vacation with his family and said he wasn’t coming back for a snowstorm. Critics lambasted Christie. He made no apologies. “I wanted to be there with my kids,” Christie said. “I had a great five days with my children.”

As Matt Katz writes in his new book, American Governor, “Christie would not put himself at risk of falling again.” He got nationwide attention for his spiel before Hurricane Irene: “Get the hell off the beach in Asbury Park and get out. You’re done. It’s four-thirty. You’ve maximized your tan.” He spoke to the media several times before Superstorm Sandy in 2012. At his final press conference, he spoke to the children of New Jersey directly: “Remain calm. The adults are taking care of business. Don’t be scared.”

Christie and his aids viewed the devastation with horror. Christie, then Mitt Romney‘s chief surrogate on the campaign trail, said he wasn’t concerned about the election anymore. “I will tell you this administration, at the moment, could give a damn less about Election Day,” he said. “If you hear the things that I just talked about and the devastation that’s been visited upon this state, I am sure that while the national election is obviously very important, that the people of New Jersey at this moment would really be unhappy with me if they thought for a second I would occupy my time thinking about how I was going to get people to vote a week from today.”

The governor changed his tune now that he’s running for office himself.

He originally said he wasn’t going to stop campaigning to return to New Jersey during the storm. He changed his mind, and gave a press conference at noon on Saturday while back in the state. During it, he lambasted Margate homeowners who oppose a dunes project, saying the flooding there was due to the lack of sand dunes on the beach.

The flooding in Margate on Saturday, however, was from the back bay overflowing into the town. Christie also said the flooding at the shore was not that bad. He was quickly lambasted by none other than Cecily Tynan.

Turns out the flood in New Jersey was worse than Sandy in Avalon and below. Above it, and Sandy was worse. Christie — who is from North Jersey, where the political power in the state traditionally lies — was in New Hampshire by Monday morning.

Shore towns in South Jersey suffered extensive damage. The flooding in the south was not as bad as the worst of Sandy up north, but people’s homes, cars and other property were still ruined. At a town hall-style event on Monday, Christie was asked by a young woman, “Why are you here in New Hampshire campaigning instead of there helping, surveying the damages done by the coastal flooding from the storm?”

Christie fired back: “There’s been one county that’s flooded in the state — one county, that was Cape May County. That’s the one county that flooded, so I don’t know where from ‘all over the state,’ since we have 21 counties, where that’s happened. … Second, I don’t know what you want me to do, you want me to go down there with a mop?” He later called North Wildwood mayor Patrick Rosenello, a Republican, “crazy.”

People in South Jersey are not happy. They’re not even happy in Cape May County, where 71.3% of voters chose Christie in the last election. Stone Harbor’s Maggie Day told the Inquirer: “I was in my waders in three feet of water and my friend is saying Gov. Christie is on TV saying it’s not that bad. “Oh yeah? Gov. Christie should come down here and get in his fishing waders and live my life.”

Zippy’s Bikes, in North Wildwood, even set out a display for the governor.

Rosenello said Christie apologized for calling him “crazy.” “I take heat from what I say all the time, sometimes it’s deserved and sometimes it isn’t,” Christie said in a press conference today. “I called and apologized to him. He was very gracious in accepting it.” Christie, though, continues to defend his decision to leave New Jersey not long after the snowstorm.

“I’m the governor. I’m not the chief engineer,” he said. “I run a government of 60,000 people. They know exactly what they need to do, and I was on the phone with them six different times today.”

This contradicts the advice Christie got previously. In American Governor, Katz writes Christie was told by former Florida governor — and presidential hopeful — Jeb Bush that he should tour the damage in flooded areas after Sandy.

“Should I go out there or shouldn’t I?” Christie asked him.

“Go. You can’t understand this right now, but they want to see you. People will feel comforted and calmed.”

Christie told me: “It was great advice.”

Katz quotes Christie on his meetings with residents after Sandy: The first Sandy victim he saw, a gray-haired woman, walked up to him. “It was the first moment I understood what Jeb was telling me,” he said. “And she was sobbing. And she grabbed me and hugged me and said, ‘Thank God you’re here.’ I just grabbed her and hugged her back and didn’t know what to say. She was like, ‘Governor, please, save us. Save us!’ You’re sitting there saying to yourself this has now gone to a totally different level of attachment, and need, for the people you’re working for. And it would happen over and over and over and over.”

Of course, that was when a big storm hit North Jersey. “It seems like he made a decision last Friday that this storm wasn’t going to be a big storm,” North Wildwood’s Rosenello said. “Didn’t matter what happened, he made the decision this wasn’t going to be a big storm. He wasn’t going to focus on it, and he was focused on something else.… Having spent the entirety of this event in North Wildwood and coordinating with our emergency responders to safely rescue approximately 150 people from their flooded homes, my perspective is somewhat different from that of the Governor as he campaigns in New Hampshire.”

Christie is taking hits in the press again. Frequent critic Tom Moran, of The Star-Ledger, writes: “Perhaps it’s the stress of the presidential campaign, but the governor seems to be losing his mind. He acts as if reality doesn’t matter any more.”