Christie rises to occasion of being true Jersey governor

Gov. Christie and cabinet members land at Avalon Elementary to meet with leaders of communities affected by Sandy.
Gov. Christie and cabinet members land at Avalon Elementary to meet with leaders of communities affected by Sandy. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 01, 2012

EWING, N.J. - He surprised: Praising President Obama one week before an election in which he had raised millions for the Republican opponent.

He pounced: Attacking Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford's alleged defiance of an evacuation order.

And he joked: Saying he'd postpone Halloween because, yes, his power is limitless.

Sandy may have weakened the coastline and electric grid and infrastructure of New Jersey, but she seemed only to strengthen Gov. Christie.

Faced with the biggest disaster of his term, Christie has seized the moment, mashing his tough-guy style and bipartisan tendencies into sound bites that have made him the political voice and face of Hurricane Sandy.

"Today was a bit of a day of sorrow for a lot of people," Christie said Tuesday night, sans notes, after touring the Jersey Shore.

"As long as sorrow does not displace resilience, then we'll be just fine."

On Wednesday, in a moment that stands in stark contrast to the raw partisanship of campaign season, Christie and Obama will tour the ravaged state. Unprompted, Christie has repeatedly praised Obama's leadership during the storm.

Just last week, Christie told Mitt Romney rallyers that Obama needed a ticket back to Chicago. Now, Obama is flying to New Jersey.

"If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics," Christie told Fox News on Tuesday, "then you don't know me."

Later, he said of the election: "I've got much bigger fish to fry, as do the people of New Jersey."

Christie has fashioned himself as the Garden State's champion regardless of politics. So he spoke to Obama three times Tuesday.

At midnight, the president woke the governor with a call. Christie asked Obama to expedite the emergency declaration for the state. And the president did.

"The cooperation from the president of the United States has been outstanding," Christie said.

The sound bites are forwarded by his always-sophisticated communications shop. They often come from the news briefings Christie has held since Saturday, some carried live on national TV. Flanked by cabinet members, Christie stands behind a large wooden lectern and in front of an even larger seal of the State of New Jersey at the Regional Operations Intelligence Center on a hill outside the state capital. He stands tieless, in a fleece emblazoned with his name.

His tone swings. On Tuesday night, he moved seamlessly from teasing a reporter to emoting about the difficulty of seeing the Seaside Heights amusement pier log flume floating in the ocean. Two months ago, his two youngest children took that ride. Three months ago, he yelled at a heckler on that boardwalk.

"The stand in the middle of the boardwalk that sells sausage-and-peppers and lemonade is gone," the Jersey boy said. "And I looked for it today. The entire structure is gone."

He spoke of hugging women who lost their homes and listening to rescue workers' heroic tales: "It was an overwhelming day, emotionally."

The Shore will be back, better than ever, but will never be the same, he said.

The Christie message was broadcast far and wide. He appeared on all three major networks and all three cable news channels Tuesday alone. Online, his staff echoed his sound bites on Twitter.

Through it all, he sounds the same as he does at Statehouse briefings about arcane legislation. He spoke sternly to "stupid" people who would not evacuate, and he spoke softly to children about how "the adults are taking care of business."

Natural disasters can be an opportunity for politicians to demonstrate the commander-in-chief qualities people want in a leader.

They can also demonstrate weakness.

When Christie went on vacation over his first Christmas in office, leaving snowy roadways behind, he was roundly criticized. This time, he left the Romney campaign trail. He hasn't spoken to Romney since Sunday.

His power out at home in Mendham, Christie slept just two hours at the governor's mansion Tuesday despite a nagging head cold that has made his voice sound more nasal than normal.

He is still vintage Christie, though, always finding a foil.

This time it was Atlantic City's Langford, who had opened shelters within the city despite Christie's order that everyone leave. The Monday criticism led cable TV newscasts through 24 hours.

For his part, Langford said Tuesday that he kept the shelters as a place of last resort for those who had disobeyed evacuation orders. Langford called Christie's comments "reprehensible."

Through it all, a Christie confidence seeps through that plays particularly well during uncertainty. Consider his response to a question about whether he could postpone Halloween by executive order in order to make sure children trick-or-treat on safe streets.

Does his power have no bounds?

"The answer is: No."


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

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