PORT MONMOUTH, N.J. – Perhaps borrowing a bit of stagecraft from his idol, Bruce Springsteen, Gov. Chris Christie let a 3-year-old girl ask the last question at a town hall meeting Thursday.
“Our house is still broken,” said Nicole Brier, one of the many in the packed VFW Hall here whose home was damaged in Superstorm Sandy – and who are still waiting, with increasing anger, for state aid to come through.
“I understand your frustration,” Christie said. “I feel it myself. I hope you see that today. But we are not going to stop until we help as many people as we can possibly help.”
On top of the headaches from the continuing George Washington Bridge investigation, Christie is now facing a tide of increasing unhappiness from some of the thousands of Sandy victims who, more than a year after the storm, are still waiting for money to rebuild.
“I’m Debbie from Brick and I just want to go home,” said Debbie Fortier, who was wearing a T-shirt saying "Homeless for One Year."
Christie acknowledged the problems, but vigorously defended his administration’s performance, saying that Washington hasn’t provided enough money and has made things worse with bad policies and inflexibile rules for homeowners.
He said Congress stalled in appropriating emergency relief funds and left the state with a gap of at least $17 billion. “That means choices have to be made,” Christie said. “Not everybody can be made whole.”
Christie heard from some of those left out, including a woman who said she can’t get any help because the federal rules preclude rebuilding vacation homes. The resulting debts and problems might cause her to lose her other home, she said.
He blamed the Obama administration for problems in paying flood insurance, saying the National Flood Insurance Program won’t go to mediation with policy holders. Joking that the acronym, NFIP, “needs another F in there,” he suggested a candidate: the Federal Emergency Management Administration, which runs the flood program.
“FEMA is the new F word,” he said.
No questions about the bridge scandal came up, and Christie, coat off, also handled questions about issues like group homes and divorce law, and bantered with the crowd. One man, wearing a VFW uniform, gave Christie some unsolicited advice: Forget about Springsteen, whose liberal politics are at odds with Christie’s: “He’s not a friend of yours, Governor.”
Too late, said Christie, who said he’s seen 132 Springsteen concerts so far. “I live in hope”, he said, that he and the singer will end up pals someday.
“I don’t do drugs, I don’t drink,” he said. “This is all I’ve got.”
“I think we get attached to certain people in our youth and it’s kind of hard to let that go,” he said. “My heart keeps telling me not to.”
At the end of the town hall, the speakers played Springsteen’s song, "We Take Care of Our Own."
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