By David Cruz
Against the backdrop of a struggling couple’s storm-damaged home in Neptune, Sen. Barbara Buono unleashed her most biting attack against Gov. Chris Christie, accusing him of exploiting the Sandy recovery effort for his own political gain by starring in those “Stronger Than The Storm” TV ads during an election year.
“This governor has used $2 million in recovery funds, not to go to victims of Sandy, but to secure a starring role in what is the equivalent of a campaign ad,” said Buono.
The Christie administration defended the $25 million marketing campaign produced by MWW, a New Jersey PR firm that won the $4.7 million media end of the contract despite not having the lowest bid. The Asbury Park Press reported that the losing firm — which did not propose featuring Christie in its ads — was the lowest bidder by over $2 million.
“I’m here today calling on Chris Christie to pay back the $2 million from his campaign funds to make it right,” Buono said. “The Sandy Relief Fund needs to be reimbursed. It is the least he can do to help families who one person described as living in purgatory.”
School teachers John Lambert and Lee Ann Newland say that describes them. They showed Buono around their Hillcrest Avenue home, which they say they’ve had to put on the market because state and FEMA programs have been no help.
“A $10,000 [grant] is not going to get us anywhere over a three-year period with this house, and in further reading the documents that came with this promissory note, it says you can’t use that money for construction, so we’re no better off than we were before,” said Newland. “We’ve been indefinitely wait-listed for the other grant.”
Walking Buono through his gutted home, Lambert says he can’t watch the “Stronger Than The Storm” ads any more.
“My wife and I are feeling like the whole New Jersey Strong concept is, um, I don’t know, I don’t know who it’s for; we don’t feel like it’s for us,” he said.
It is a gamble to challenge Christie on anything Sandy related as Senate President Steve Sweeney learned earlier this year when he had to apologize for suggesting “[Christie] prayed a lot and got lucky a storm came.”
But Buono could be counting on “Stronger Than The Storm” fatigue, to which even Christie recently admitted.
“While I had nothing to do with writing the song, if you think it’s stuck in your head, you can only imagine how stuck it is in my head,” he told an audience in Little Ferry last week.
She may not have millions of dollars to run her own TV ads, but Buono is hoping that the next time you see that “Stronger Than The Storm” TV commercial, you’ll think about it a little differently.