By John Burton
MIDDLETOWN –Before what seemed to be a largely supportive crowd, Gov. Chris Christie returned to the town hall forum today in Port Monmouth, assuring the audience that the work of rebuilding from Super Storm Sandy will continue.
The forum had been abandoned by the Republican governor last June, with Christie explaining today the reason was to prevent any criticism that these events were being used for electioneering for his November 2013 bid for a second term. But, “it is a very important part of doing this job,” he told the capacity crowd, which included a considerable contingent of media, at VFW Post 2179 in Port Monmouth.
Today’s event, his 110th town hall appearance, was intended to stress “what we’re going to do is continue to recover from Sandy,” and what is his administration’s agenda for the second round of federal aid money that has been designated for New Jersey, Christie said.
Choosing Port Monmouth was intentional, as portions of the area were dramatically impacted by the storm. Middletown Mayor Stephanie Murray told the audience and media it was one of the worst hit parts of the state.
The state sustained about $37 billion in damages from the October 2012 storm, the worst natural disaster for the state, he said. While he and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were seeking and hoping for total federal reimbursement for the damage, Christie acknowledged that is not likely to happen. He estimated the state would probably receive between $12 billion and $20 million, when all is said and done.
“So that is going to mean choices are going to have to made,” to ensure financial assistance is distributed “the fairest way we can.”
Most of the money – about 72 percent of it – has been allocated for low- and middle-income earners who are often still struggling to rebuild.
“It’s been an enormous undertaking” to rebuild and continues to take up more than 40 percent of his personal time each week, he said.
But, there is more to do, as audience members – while often offering their support for Christie’s efforts – spoke of their continuing issues.
“I’m Debbie from Brick and I just want to go home,” said one audience member, who detailed her frustrating efforts in rebuilding her home damaged by the storm.
“If I controlled the checkbook, you would be home,” he told her, laying much of the slow recovery blame at the feet of President Barack Obama, Congress, and federal red tape. “I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it happen.”
Christie said administration members would be soliciting public input, drafting a plan for the additional funds, informing the public of the plan and then submitting it for federal approval.
Also on hand with the governor were representatives from a wide array of state departments, who were available to assist people with their Sandy-related issues.
Conspicuously absent for the approximately 2-hour appearance was any reference by Christie or public to the George Washington Bridge traffic lane closures last fall, the ensuing controversies and media scrutiny that has dogged the governor since the revelations.