By David Cruz
You’ll have to excuse Gov. Chris Christie if there’s a certain “what, me worry” sensibility to his appearances of late. In his mostly triumphant tour of Iowa last week, the governor got rock star treatment from an audience convinced he saved the state from Superstorm Sandy, so the alternative narrative presented by Senate President Steve Sweeney today would probably come as a surprise to most people in the Hawkeye State.
“It’s not about me wanting people to say negative things about him,” said Sweeney. “I would rather be talking about how great things are, not about how bad things are.”
But Sweeney was joined by housing advocates at a State House press conference to criticize the content — or lack thereof — of a report (mandated by law) from the state’s Integrity Monitor on the Sandy recovery effort. Especially scant in the summary were details about what contractors were used, where millions of dollars actually went and just what went wrong when the state terminated its contract with Louisiana-based Hammerman & Gainer Inc., or HGI, to which it still owes over $30 million.
“You know, we have a Mastro Report that’s 344 pages and cost $3 million,” he said, sarcastically. “I got an integrity monitor’s report that’s 24 pages and cost $5 million. I think we got cheated.”
Adam Gordon, a staff attorney with the Fair Share Housing Center, agreed.
“As the senator said, we really have ended up with very little information,” he added. “We have 24 pages in a sort of very summary form a year and a half after this law has passed is absolutely unacceptable.”
The governor has been back on the town hall circuit again and while the praise for his handling of the post-Sandy recovery is no longer universal, he has acknowledged some glitches but redirected his (and residents’) scorn away from himself or his administration.
“What happens when you deal with the federal government is the red tape is immeasurable,” he told an audience at a town hall in February. “The entire flood insurance business in this country has been taken over by the federal government. Well, guess who the greedy corporation is that’s taking your money and not paying you now — the federal government.”
Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing & Community Development Network of New Jersey, says the report is a critical learning tool, in addition to a state-mandated effort at transparency. “We absolutely should be looking to make this process better not just for New Jersey residents in particular but for the rest of the country as well,” she said.
Given his extensive national travel schedule, it’s tough to tell if the governor gives much consideration to critics of his Sandy recovery efforts, but he will be in the state tomorrow for a town hall event in Long Branch where, if his past town halls are any indication, he’ll be treated like a rock star.