Christie hears from storm victims at town hall

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 20, 2014 at 2:57 pm •  Published: February 20, 2014
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MIDDLETOWN, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie, appearing at his first town hall-style meeting since a political payback plot engulfed his administration, heard complaints from residents still displaced by last year's Superstorm Sandy but no gripes from commuters stuck in massive traffic jams manufactured by his aides.

The Republican returned to GOP-controlled Monmouth County for the meeting Thursday, six weeks after private emails revealed his associates ordered traffic lanes closed near the George Washington Bridge, creating gridlock in nearby Fort Lee, possibly to punish the town's Democratic mayor. The involvement of close Christie aides has overshadowed the start of his second term and threatened to derail any ambitions to run for president in 2016.

The 500 or so constituents who attended Thursday's town hall — held about 45 miles from where the traffic jams occurred — had Sandy recovery on their minds. The topic gave Christie a little breathing room to court the crowd in the kind of forum that helped cement his first-term popularity. In past forums, Christie connected with constituents by relying on a mix of straight talk and humor that many found refreshing.

Christie began by blaming Congress for being too slow to approve a multibillion-dollar aid package after New Jersey suffered the worst natural disaster in its history in October 2012.

When a resident complained about a paltry flood-insurance reimbursement, he had harsh words for the federal program.

When a woman told him her mother died Saturday while still in a rental house, he said the deceased woman would want him to take care of the survivors.

And when he called on a 3-year-old who told him, "my house is still broken," he called her closer and promised that someone from his administration would see about helping her mom. Then they high-fived.

Christie was seen as a leader after the storm, and his popularity soared as the state began recovering from the disaster that caused an estimated $37 billion in damages to the state.

But recently, residents and public advocates have become openly critical of the slow pace and confusing way it is distributing the first $1.8 billion in aid. The administration fired one private contractor managing storm aid distribution, and the Democrat-led Legislature has demanded more transparency in the distribution of aid and more help for still-struggling storm victims.