A more-subdued Christie at Sandy event

Gov. Christie (right) sits with a group of homeowners who lost their homes in Hurricane Sandy and officials in Manahawkin, N.J. He said that the rebuilding of Shore towns was hard, but that his administration had already distributed $800 million to recovery.
Gov. Christie (right) sits with a group of homeowners who lost their homes in Hurricane Sandy and officials in Manahawkin, N.J. He said that the rebuilding of Shore towns was hard, but that his administration had already distributed $800 million to recovery. (AP)
Posted: January 17, 2014

MANAHAWKIN, N.J. - A public appearance Thursday - Gov. Christie's first outside Trenton since the George Washington Bridge scandal erupted this month - provided little more than a morale boost.

And while it was meant as a lift for the sagging spirits of residents in this section of Ocean County ravaged by Hurricane Sandy 15 months ago, it was an opportunity for Christie to try to move the discourse away from the bridge and back to the beach.

It was after the storm ripped New Jersey's 127-mile coastline on Oct. 29, 2012, that Christie's approval rating in the state jumped from around 56 percent to an unheard-of 77 percent, according to one poll. The storm put the governor in the national spotlight, touring tattered beach towns with President Obama and garnering him support from both sides of the political aisle.

So appearing in Manahawkin on Thursday - a week after he was supposed to be there, a visit that was canceled on 20 minutes' notice as the bridge scandal broke - seemed like the perfect chance to refocus attention.

"I want you to know that I am as focused on completing this mission as I was when I woke up on the morning of Oct. 30, 2012," said Christie, standing at a lectern inside the engine garage of the Stafford Volunteer Fire Company to deliver a brief address to a mostly supportive audience of several hundred people.

The crowd of mostly locals only slightly outnumbered the throng of national and local reporters gathered for the event. Christie met privately with two families who lost their homes in the storm, then made his remarks without taking any questions from the crowd or reporters before slipping out a rear door of the firehouse.

"And nothing will distract me from getting that job done, nothing," Christie said in a tone more subdued than usual at his gatherings and town meetings.

Instead of fleece - his de rigueur attire in the months after the storm - Christie appeared in a suit with a pink power tie. His bravado was missing, and he made no specific mention of events surrounding the bridge lane closures.

Christie acknowledged that rebuilding at the Shore continues to be arduous, but noted that his administration has distributed more than $800 million in housing recovery funds. The most recent release of money, announced Tuesday, is $145 million that could help as many as 2,000 New Jersey families return to their homes.

"I believe he is sincere and really cares that we all get back in our homes, I really do. It meant a lot to me to be able to sit down with him and really talk about what we've been through," said Gabe Castrovilly, 57, of Stafford Township, whose home was destroyed by the storm and who was one of the people Christie met privately with Thursday.

But Kristen Mondelli, 42, of Stafford's Beach Haven West section, said she was not boosted by the appearance.

"I'm disappointed. I thought we would have had a chance to ask questions . . . to talk to him more one-on-one, but instead, he just ran out the back door," said Mondelli, whose ruined home was finally demolished Wednesday to make way for new construction. "Sometimes I feel like we're really forgotten."

Just before leaving the fire house, Christie alluded to the controversy surrounding his administration.

"I suspect there are more cameras here than I originally thought for a Sandy event in Manahawkin," said Christie, making his only reference to the media during the entire morning. "I hope all these people with cameras will frequent the local businesses so Manahawkin gets something out of this today other than seeing my smiling face."


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jurgo@phillynews.com

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