Christie praises Obama administration on Irene response

Posted: September 06, 2011

NEPTUNE, N.J. - Gov. Christie praised both the Obama administration and state agencies Monday for their handling of Hurricane Irene, which forced one million people to evacuate the Jersey Shore, cut off power to 1.5 million customers, and left thousands awaiting relief checks.

"I think the performance was really outstanding," Christie said at a news conference held in a new joint headquarters, to open Wednesday, for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state Office of Emergency Management.

In North Jersey cities such as Paterson and Wayne, the aftermath of the hurricane proved far worse than the storm itself. Rivers overflowed, causing the worst flooding in the state in a century, Christie said. There are delayed school openings, destroyed property, and 242 people remaining in shelters more than a week after Irene touched down.

FEMA specialists are fanning out through the ravaged areas to provide monetary assistance.

There were some "glitches" in the response to Irene, Christie said - like food arriving late to a shelter one night, and a delay in power restoration for customers of Jersey Central Power & Light. He said the state Board of Public Utilities would be investigating that delay, adding that PSE&G and Atlantic City Electric "did a much better job."

President Obama has approved federal disaster assistance in all 21 counties, and $3 million has already been distributed, Christie said.

The Republican governor repeatedly praised the responsiveness of Obama, a Democrat whom he spent three hours with on a tour of Paterson on Sunday.

"I had the opportunity to thank him for his administration expediting the much-needed assistance . . . and complimented him on the great work FEMA did both before the storm and after the storm," Christie said.

Obama, while visiting and consoling New Jerseyans on Sunday, said: "The entire country is behind you. We are going to make sure that we provide all the resources that's necessary in order to help these communities rebuild."

Beyond gaining face time with the president, which politicians from both parties typically covet, Christie scored several political points due to the storm.

On the national front, his exhortation to "get the hell off the beach" brought national coverage. Several of his Irene news conferences were carried live on cable TV, and he appeared on the Sunday morning political shows as the storm passed through.

At home, in a poll taken after Irene, Christie saw some of his highest approval ratings to date: 54 percent.

He had a brief dustup with the union for state employees after forcing workers to report on the Monday after the storm even as he advised the rest of the state to stay off the flooded roadways.

But in a post-hurricane tour of the Shore at the end of last week - in which Christie walked the boardwalk, posed for pictures in shorts, and had a beer at a bar - the governor was mostly thanked for the way he handled the disaster.

"Get the hell back to the beach," he said in apparent good humor, hoping to reverse the loss in revenue suffered by businesses.

Christie also came across as the centrist politician. In addition to his praise for Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, with whom he had earlier surveyed storm-ravaged towns, Christie split from a Republican congressional leader, U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who suggested that savings be found elsewhere in the federal budget to offset money spent on the disaster.

Since those comments, Christie said, Cantor's office "has assured us" there will not be a delay in emergency assistance.

"If we're waiting for those guys [in Congress] to agree on something, we're going to be waiting a long time," Christie said Tuesday. "And these guys here can't wait."

The brushback pitch to a fellow Republican sent a buzz through political circles because of the continued speculation about Christie's presidential aspirations. On Sunday, a former adviser to President George W. Bush suggested that Christie was actively considering running for president.

While touring Paterson with Obama, Christie said he saw the rumor - which he described as false - on his iPhone.

Although the two politicians shared several laughs and talked about personal topics - like "the issues that fathers of teenage girls talk about" - Christie said he chose not to mention the rumor.

"Discretion is the better part of valor in that regard," he said. "You don't, like, whip out the iPhone and say, 'Hey, Mr. President, look at this! They say I'm actively reconsidering running against you!' Especially when you're looking for FEMA funding, you don't do it."


Contact staff writer Matt Katz at 609-217-8355, mkatz@phillynews.com, or @mattkatz00 on Twitter. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at philly.com/christiechronicles.

|
|
|
|
|