SAYREVILLE, N.J. - One year after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie marked the day by mourning those lost in the storm, thanking volunteers, police and firefighters — and taking another swipe at Congress for bogging down the recovery effort.
Mr. Christie, a Republican, kicked off a 10-stop tour Tuesday at a damaged firehouse in Seaside Park, saying the anniversary is an opportunity to take stock of both progress and the rebuilding work that remains after a storm that left 38 dead, caused $40 billion in damage and damaged nearly 350,000 homes in his state.
“There are still thousands of people still out of their homes, and for them it doesn’t matter that tens of thousands of people are back in their homes,” Mr. Christie said. “To them, it is only going to matter when they get back in their home. So that has to be our mission as we move forward — that is not to forget those folks.”
The Hurricane Sandy anniversary coincides with the final week of Mr. Christie’s re-election race against Democrat state Sen. Barbara Buono.
Mr. Christie is expected to cruise to victory — thanks in large part to the rave reviews he has received from voters for the way he has responded to the hurricane and its aftermath.
Mr. Christie also is openly pondering a bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, and political observers believe he is banking on a big re-election win here to bolster the case that the Christie brand can sell nationwide as well.
Mr. Christie added to the speculation Tuesday when he refused to commit to a full term if re-elected, telling ABC’s “Good Morning America” that “we’ll see what happens.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Christie plans to shift his focus back to the gubernatorial campaign when he and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno embark on an ambitious weeklong, 90-stop bus tour featuring rallies and meet-and-greets across the state.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday showed Mr. Christie holds a 33-percentage point lead over Ms. Buono. “The election looks like a runaway,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Mr. Christie, though, has been on the receiving end of some recent criticism over the insurance problems and bureaucratic red tape that has hampered some people’s attempts to get back into a home and bogged down the overall recovery effort.
Debbie Fortier met Mr. Christie as he made his way out of the Seaside Park event and shared with him the story of how her family was displaced by the storm and is still waiting on aid for her home.
“I am not going to give up,” Ms. Fortier told The Washington Times afterward. “I just want to get home and there are still a lot of us out there that still are not home. We have come a long way and have a long way to go.”
The 53-year-old added, “I am just drained. It has been a long year.”
Others have been luckier.
Joseph Harkay said he and his wife, Judith, escaped their flooding house on a rescue boat and went on to stay rent-free at a relative’s empty home. Since then, they’ve purchased a new home located across the street from a golf course and now they are waiting on a state buyout of their flooded home.