In 2010, Gov. Chris Christie underestimated the first major storm of his administration by flying to Disney World hours before snow crippled NJ. A year later, he overplayed Tropical Storm Irene. When Superstorm Sandy set its sights on his state, he had learned his lesson: be more hands on, more empathetic.
“I had a sense from the beginning that this one was going to be really bad,” Christie, 50, told The Associated Press in an interview that reflected on a first term that has now positioned him in the national spotlight and as a potential 2016 presidential contender.
“With Irene, I went back and forth because the forecasts were going back and forth. When the National Weather Service says it’s going to be a wipe out of the Shore then they start backing off of that, it’s very difficult to set the right tone and, candidly, make the right decisions,” he said. “I might have been firmer in Sandy if it hadn’t been for the experience of Irene when I got everybody off the beach and nothing really awful happened there.”
Christie, by his own admission, is “not a subtle personality” and he likes to take charge. Those two traits figured prominently in how the Republican handled Sandy.
From his frequent updates to residents as the storm’s winds whipped the state’s beaches to his criticism last week of fellow Republican John Boehner’s decision to delay a U.S. House vote on federal storm aid, his handling of his native state’s worst natural disaster may one day be considered the defining moment in the political career of a budding presidential contender.
The timing of the storm — days before a presidential election — ultimately helped define his role in it as well.
Christie has been viewed as a nonpartisan advocate for federal aid since the storm hit Oct. 29. He embraced President Barack Obama’s visit to the Jersey Shore six days before the election, inciting catcalls from conservatives.
And last week he smacked down Boehner for delaying a vote on the $60.4 billion storm-aid package. Christie said he tried to call Boehner four times Tuesday, but none of the calls were returned. Christie’s office received 800 emails following the governor’s Boehner news conference, mostly positive.
Christie said he was just doing his job.
“It never struck me that what I should do is calibrate my language in order to be more political. My view was the (president) was helping us and I wanted to tell people. He deserved that credit,” he said. “With Boehner, I would have reacted differently if the speaker had picked up my phone calls Tuesday night and explained what he was doing. The fact that 66 days had already gone by with no assistance, all that stuff conspired to create the reaction that I gave.”