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Christie hears from storm victims at town hall



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.

Thursday's meeting also had some adversarial moments, a rare occurrence in the 109 prior town hall sessions he has held since being elected governor in 2009.

When asked why the administration quietly ended a $68 million contract with its Sandy aid contractor, Hammerman & Gainer Inc., Christie was heckled with calls of "answer the question." He then defended the decision to put the administration of storm recovery programs in private hands, but he did not say what led to the Louisiana firm's termination.

"I just disagree with you," he told the resident who argued that existing government employees should be administering the program.

Maxine Rescorl and Cathy Morello, who live in the region and were in the audience, said any discussion about the bridge scandal would have been inappropriate and irrelevant to people who are trying to rebuild homes and businesses here.

Outside, there was a smattering of protesters. One, Democrat Marilyn Tuohy, waved a hand-written sign proclaiming that Christie cared only about himself, not storm victims.

At the state capital, an Assembly panel advanced a bill Thursday aimed at fixing perceived problems with the way aid is being distributed to storm victims. The Housing and Community Development Committee approved a bill placing numerous requirements on state officials tasked with handing out storm aid.

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lbwalnj February 22 2014 at 7:59 AM

Despite a few good acts of Gov. Christie in office, clearly very serious issues have cropped up. They have been compounded by his high profile in the National Republican party and his possible considerations to be a primary candidate for the Republicans in the next presidential race.
While the GWB scandal only affected a small percentage of bridge users, the way it was done via his PANYNJ appointments, the cover up, the involvement of his inner staff, is seen as a terrible abuse of power. It has brought out serious issues about the PANYNJ, the involvement of the Governor as to it, and related issues.
Other possible scandals have came out too. From the Sandy 'stronger than the storm' ads featuring him as to the costs and production company, the serious delays and possible mismanagement and political abuses in distribution of funds to people who's home were damaged in Sandy to return home, the allegations of Hoboken post-storm, all have been piled on by his enemies (Democrats, state worker unions, teachers) seeking revenge on him.

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intamerica February 22 2014 at 7:56 AM

Christie should resign after all his questions are answered. Play the fifth what a joke. Where are all my tax moneys sent to NJ to help the Sandy Victims? Why he paid 6oplus millions to a corporation to manage the Sandy funs and then quietly fired them?

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arinko4139 February 22 2014 at 7:34 AM

Let's see--property taxes haven't gone down; our employment trust; COAH trust; and transportation trust have been depleted to keep "0" state budget increases. Our roads, bridges and tunnels are in a woeful state of disrepair. $25 million on Stronger than the Storm Ads for him and his family; $65 million to a company who has botched storm aid relief. State aid to municipalities has decreased; we have the highest unemployment in the tri-state area; seniors are fleeing the state at breakneck speed; need I say more! What a mess he has created for future generations.

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1 reply to arinko4139's comment
nbrten February 22 2014 at 8:17 AM

Sounds just like Obama.

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paulgregoryny February 22 2014 at 7:30 AM

SPRINGSTEIN ??? he doesnt sing-----he screams -----like "THE EMPEROR THAT WORE NO CLOTHES"

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paulgregoryny February 22 2014 at 7:27 AM

how quickly they forget !

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plewdawg February 22 2014 at 7:19 AM

I have no sympathy for him. He was warned not to lay down with progressive fleas or ticks.

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bigrbk February 22 2014 at 7:12 AM

OH WELL A BULLY IS A BULLY AND A BULLY ALWAYS GETS CAUGHT SO NOTHING NEW SSDD

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dianeprealtor February 22 2014 at 7:08 AM

ENOUGH ALL THIS POLITICAL CRAP[ HAS TO STOP MR CRISTIE IS THE BEST THING THAT HAPPENED IN NEW JERSEY LETS LOOK AT THE GOOD HE HAS DONE AND STOP BEATING UP ON HIM

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2 replies to dianeprealtor's comment
jrb359 February 22 2014 at 7:26 AM

So far there is still no proof that HE was responsible for the lane closure. The state run media is looking for ANYTHING to hang on him because he had more voter support than Hillary. I'm more concerned about what happened with Benghazi where 4 Americans died that asked for help than someone with a lane closure.

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Joe Vivona February 22 2014 at 7:49 AM

I agree with you he is the best we have had in NJ. He is not putting the screws on us here in NJ like the last two administrations did to the residents of NJ...People just look for trouble, like in this situation. Did these people actually take the day off from their jobs to hold those signs up and protest??? How sick is this that there is so much to work on in NJ and this is a big item here, a bridge??? Christie was hit with a lot of "stuff" when he was elected and then storm sandy hit...He is still my governor and I will support him to the moon.

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miltonsappliance February 22 2014 at 7:01 AM

So many comments from liberal incompetents. Lets see how long the media keeps the Ron Calderon story going. The biased liberal media is the problem here, not Christie, and by the way, who cares about what Springsteen thinks. He is NOBODY.

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1 reply to miltonsappliance's comment
fernbergbear1953 February 22 2014 at 7:06 AM

Nice try at a "bait and switch" tactic, but it didn`t work pal. Like FOX news and Rush Limbaugh, what you want, is to try getting people to not focus on the fact Christie is sinking his own ship right in public...and it`s driving to right wing conservative republicans crazy. Keep going, your proving my points here with that sort of posting.

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Martha Harmon February 22 2014 at 6:43 AM

Where were the Democrats after Katrina in New Orleans while the Democratic Mayor was stealing money? Not a peep from them then or now. Did anyone hear our President, who was a Senator at the time, criticizing the Bush Administration for Katrina? Where is Obama on Hurricane Sandy victims? Playing golf, fundraising and campaigning no doubt. This traffic situation pales in comparison to Benghazi, Fast and Furious, IRS and NSA. But the Dems are totally behind Hillary for President after her total failure to protect our Americans in Benghazi.

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2 replies to Martha Harmon's comment
Awesome Again February 22 2014 at 6:47 AM

Ahhh, you're a good lil faux news bot

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fernbergbear1953 February 22 2014 at 7:08 AM

Another attempt at the "bait and switch" to get focus on anything but the fact Christie is sinking his own ship. I can hear you now..."DITTO`S RUSHhhhhh".................

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