As New Jersey Governor Chris Christie toured the state’s ravaged coastline in the days after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy last year, one emotional encounter in particular stuck with him.
“I think the one that’s still the most vivid in my memory is a couple days after the storm going to Port Monmouth, New Jersey, and seeing a girl who at that time was 9 years old, Ginger Doherty,’’ Christie told Matt Lauer on TODAY Tuesday. “(That was) the first child that I encountered in the few days afterwards that was crying. I think seeing crying adults I kind of braced myself for, but seeing a crying, scared 9-year-old child, like my 9-year-old daughter at the time, was incredibly emotional and to this day is still very evocative to me and is representative of all the children who felt so displaced after Sandy.”
One year since the storm hit the Garden State, many residents are still feeling displaced with uninhabitable homes, remaining damage and a sea of red tape between the local, state and federal governments as well as insurance companies. Some of their ire has been directed at Christie.
“I don’t think that any of us are satisfied until every person is back in their home,’’ Christie said. “We’ve made incredible progress here in the last year. We had 346,000 homes severely damaged or destroyed. Of the 40,000 people who were initially displaced, nearly 30,000 of them already received direct aid from the government, but I’m never going to be satisfied until every person is back in their home.”
Christie believes a contributing factor to the lag time of affected people receiving aid stems from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“We’re banging heads at the federal level,’’ said Christie, who is running for reelection this year. “Part of the problem that you recall was that it took 92 days for the federal government to act on aid to Sandy victims. That compares to 10 days for Hurricane Katrina and 17 days for Hurricane Gustav. I told people at the time that was going to add things on the back end, and here’s what it caused — no federal money started to flow here until the end of May.
“It’s essentially been now just five months since the federal money started to come, and there is enormous amounts of red tape that we call the ‘Katrina hangover,’ because of some of the waste and abuse (following Katrina). There’s a lot more federal regulation that folks are having to deal with. We’re continuing to push back on that, but it’s one of the realities of all the waste and abuse that happened in Katrina.”
Following Superstorm Sandy, Christie had harsh words for Republicans in Congress and Speaker of the House John Boehner for the delay in federal funding.
“I hope everybody down in Washington is starting to learn lessons, although I have to tell you the truth, you look at some of the stuff down there and think maybe they haven’t,’’ Christie said. “I think both parties have to get back to work and start talking to each other and working with each other like we do here in New Jersey.
“I have a Democratic legislature but we’ve accomplished a lot here. Yeah, we yell and scream at each other at times, but then we sit down around a table and we get things done for the people who elected us. I think there’s too little of that spirit in Washington, D.C., even today.”
In contrast to his criticism of Republicans, Christie often had complimentary words for President Barack Obama's assistance and availability in the wake of the storm.
“I think sometimes these kind of crises bring out the best in an executive, and I think that may be what happened with the president at that time,’’ Christie said. “Back a year ago, the president kept his word to the people of New Jersey, and if I was asked about it, I was going to say that, regardless of the politics, and be critical of my own party when they were coming up short for the people of New Jersey. The bottom line is, my job is to stand up for the people of New Jersey and fight for them, and that’s what I’m going to do regardless of the politics.”
Politics will likely take a backseat to Halloween in two days when New Jersey finally gets to celebrate the holiday after having it wiped out by the storm last year. Christie plans on dressing up as a certain TODAY anchor.
"It's funny, this year I'm actually going as Savannah Guthrie,'' Christie said. "I figure if I pick Savannah, I will endear myself to the people in my state because they love her here."
"I don't vote in New Jersey, just so you know,'' Savannah joked. "I know the election is soon.''
"Savannah, don't worry about that, there's seven days left (until the election),'' said Christie, who holds almost a 2-1 lead in the latest poll ahead of his opponent, State Senator Barbara Buono. "We can work that out."