Sandy Dominates Christie’s Town Hall in Belmar

By David Cruz

“We all know that Belmar is governor Chris Christie’s favorite town, right?” said Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty.

Mayor Doherty is not one of those Democrats trying to put distance between himself and Gov. Christie lately.

“Absolutely. Democrat or Republican, when the governor of the state of New Jersey comes to your town you roll out the red carpet. We’re happy to have him,” Doherty said.

This is the governor’s sixth visit to Belmar, which took a big hit from Sandy and is still trying to get back on its feet.

“Some of the most iconic pictures of me in that damn fleece consoling people come from right here, come from Belmar and come from that first day,” Christie said.

In fact, Sandy dominated the discussion here today, the governor acknowledging that over the past year and a half, mistakes have been made in the recovery process.

“Let me be once again the guy to admit that this has not gone perfectly, far from it. This is the first time we’ve ever done this,” said Christie.

Security here was again tight, but there were no formal demonstrators today. And — as far as we could see — no undercover state troopers taking photos, a minor mystery which made news last week. The attorney general said today it was all basically over.

“When I found out that some photographs had been taken at some of those events and what those events were, and purpose of those events being an open and a fair dialogue with the governor, I thought that was a bit of an overzealous security measure and I instructed the police to no longer do that,” said New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman.

We did see one half-hearted sign of protest inside and outside, a few small business owners gathered to counter a contention that the governor made again today — that business people showed little interest in financial assistance from the state.

“What we realized was we were never gonna use all that money, that businesses for whatever reason, they weren’t as damaged as we thought initially or because they didn’t wanna go through the paperwork and disclose some of the financial stuff they had to disclose to the federal government in order to get this money, it was undersubscribed,” Christie said.

“That’s not only false, but it’s offensive to the business owners who’ve applied and have spent months with time and energy trying to get those grants,” said Corinne Horowitz of NJ Main Street Alliance.

If there was an underlying theme to the day, it was the hug — whether from Mayor Doherty or from just Christie fans outside, after the event.

When a woman asked the governor for a hug, he replied, “You bet.”

When we asked, “Governor, just two questions no hugs,” Christie said, “No hug David? Then forget it. I only talk to people who are willing to hug.”

The governor escaped Belmar without being confronted by demonstrators and, again, deftly avoided the press, which he continues to hold at arms length, mindful perhaps that our embrace might not be quite so comfortable.