By John Burton
ASBURY PARK – The message of support for the shore, delivered under a rainy sky on a renovated city boardwalk by President Barack Obama and Gov. Chris Christie this week, was a welcome one.
The Tuesday, May 28, event “had the feeling of a rock concert,” said restaurateur and musician Tim McLoone. “There were thousands of people waiting. ” It was a concert, with Christie serving as the opening act “and then the star of the show comes out and does a 12-minute act.”
The president and governor’s appearance “really means a lot to the Jersey Shore, not just to Asbury Park,” said Asbury Mayor Ed Johnson. “It really lifted the spirits of the citizens here and the Jersey Shore.”
Area residents needed their spirits lifted as they continue to recover and rebound from the effects of Super Storm Sandy seven months ago.
The speeches, delivered by the two leaders, were to let people know that much of the area is available for them to visit, vacation and enjoy; that lives are returning to normalcy – maybe slowly, but surely. As Obama told residents, the federal government continues “to have your back.”
The president’s message was welcomed. “As the weather worsened, there were moments when we were waiting for the president, but the enthusiasm of the crowds never waned,” Johnson said. “It just grew and grew.”
Vin Gopal, the Monmouth County Democratic chairman, said 3,500 tickets were distributed prior to the event with maybe another 500 waiting for a chance to attend on the boardwalk in front of Convention Hall.
There were Republicans, Democrats and independents on hand, with elected officials from both sides of the aisle represented, Johnson said.
“It was more than a return to the Jersey Shore to see how we’re doing, it was to recommit to resources of the federal government to the rebuilding of the area,” said the mayor.
The event also was an affirmation to those in Oklahoma suffering from a devastating tornado. It was to tell them “that while times are hard right now, the disaster is terrible, you will stand again,” Johnson said
Assemblywomen Caroline Casagrande and Mary Pat Angelini, Republicans representing the 11th Legislative District, which includes the city, were invited with other area officials to participate to meet Obama.
“It was very brief, but we were grateful he was able to come to Asbury Park to highlight the progress the Jersey Shore has made and we’re open for business,” Casagrande said.
“I think it was important for the president to come and say the Jersey Shore is open for business, because that news clip made it on the next 24-to-48 hour news cycle to thousands of news channels, thousands of radio stations, websites throughout the country,” Gopal said.
“We really couldn’t have paid for that for that kind of advertisement. It was fantastic,” Casagrande noted.
The event highlighted the message that visitors should come to the shore “and patronize our businesses and bring that revenue that so many of these towns rely on,” Red Bank Borough Councilman Edward Zipprich said.
The significance of the event loomed large for McLoone, as Christie and Obama were standing in front of his McLoone’s Asbury Grille on the boardwalk.
“Having the governor and the president literally standing in front of my restaurant in Asbury Park, that’s not a bad thing,” he said.
It has been a tough rebound for his business. It was damaged by the storm and business has been building slowing following a terrible first quarter this year, he said. “This is going to help a lot, to get this national exposure.”
On the political side, McLoone said he was glad to see the two men, with differing political beliefs standing side by side. “It really did feel bipartisan,” he said. “I felt good about that and I think I can believe both of those men.”