- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2011

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — After a firestorm of criticism, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie agreed Thursday to reimburse the state for his personal use of a state police helicopter, despite imposing on the state no immediate marginal costs, because he said the story had become a distraction.

Remaining unapologetic about his use of the helicopter to attend two of his son’s baseball games and a political dinner with Republican campaign contributors from Iowa, Mr. Christie said that he has reimbursed the state about $2,100 and asked the state Republican Party to pay about $1,200 for his trip to see the donors.

Mr. Christie said of the two baseball game trips that he was just trying to balance his role as governor and as a father.

“I’m governor 24/7 … but I am also a father. And the fact of the matter is, sometime when you are a governor, you do not control your schedule,” he said at a bill-signing ceremony in Denville.

Mr. Christie’s reversal came a day after a spokesman said the governor would not make a reimbursement, defending the trips as appropriate.

On Thursday, Mr. Christie said state police told him he wasn’t required to reimburse the state for use of the helicopter, but told reporters, “I also understand this is a really fun media story for all of you.”

“I want to make sure the public understands that I’m doing this because of the duty I feel to them to have my attention,” he said.

After seeing his son’s game Tuesday, Mr. Christie and his wife used the helicopter to fly 75 miles to the official governor’s mansion in Princeton for dinner with a group of top Republican campaign contributors from Iowa, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade Mr. Christie to run for president in 2012.

He also used the helicopter to fly from the Statehouse in Trenton on Friday to see another of his son’s games.

“I’ll be a governor for a lot less of a time than I’ll be a father,” Mr. Christie said. “It’s not a good enough excuse for me to say, ‘Well, I was just governor, so you’ll have to understand.’ “

While the flights can cost $2,500 an hour, New Jersey State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes on Wednesday said Mr. Christie’s use of the helicopter didn’t cost taxpayers anything extra because the pilots need to put in flying time anyway to keep their skills sharp.

Since taking office in January 2010, Mr. Christie has used the helicopter 33 times.

A list released by Mr. Christie’s office Thursday showed the most common use was for trips to New York City, which were made on nine occasions. When done by car, such trips can be disruptive because troopers shut the Lincoln Tunnel to other traffic for security reasons.

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