Gov. Chris Christie began a mid-afternoon appearance at a Seaside Heights bar by quelling the shouts of a group of activists who disputed the governor’s numbers on Superstorm Sandy recovery.
Christie was at Jimbo’s Bar and Grill to mark the fourth anniversary of the storm’s landfall in New Jersey and to highlight the fact that businesses that received grants and loans from the state – including Jimbo’s – had recovered from the damage. But the protesters – who included Stop FEMA Now organizer George Kasimos, Amanda Devecka-Rinear of the New Jersey Organizing Project and Jim Keady – a bar owner with political aspirations who infamously interrupted a similar speech and was met with Christie telling him to “sit down and shut up” – attempted to shout down the Republican governor.
“I call bullshit,” shouted Kasimos, of Toms River, referring to Christie’s assertion that there were just 1,700 homes still uninhabitable due to storm damage.
Christie, acknowledging the protesters, offered to meet with the group in another area of the bar and take down their contact information so his staff could reach out to them individually. After the fracas ended and Christie returned to a lectern set up beside the bar, he defended his record in the area of storm recovery, sticking to the disputed figure that 1,700 families remained out of their homes.
“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do over the last four years to help restore our state,” said Christie, touting programs like those which provided tens of thousands of dollars to businesses like Jimbo’s, who lost that much in inventory and sales from having to close their doors in the wake of the storm. “And let us remember that as frustrated as we are today, as angry as some of us may be and as happy as others may be, we’re going to wake up tomorrow morning, October 29th, 2016 and based upon the information I have for weather tomorrow, we’re not going to have anything like we had four years ago and that’s a real relief and a real blessing.”
“The fact that all but 1,700 of those homes are back and restored is something I’m enormously proud of, no matter how many people yell and scream,” Christie added. “And that doesn’t mean that those who have valid complaints shouldn’t be heard and shouldn’t try to be helped. Our office has been trying to help everyone.”
Christie said he understood frustrations citizens have with the federal government, telling the crowd assembled at the bar that he turned down a request from the federal government to have the state collect “overpayments” of flood insurance claims from victims who contested the amount they received from insurers under the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA, which administers the NFIP, had to reopen claims and provide additional funding to homeowners after it was found our many were short-changed by adjusters who purposely lowered damage estimates.
“The fraud that was perpetrated upon the state by FEMA was extraordinary,” said Christie.
“If I could do one thing and wave a magic wand, I would eliminate the national flood insurance program,” he said to cheers from some of those who protested him minutes earlier. “They won’t let us regulate them … and they dominate the market.”
The governor would have eliminated the National Flood Insurance Program himself, but “I ran for President, and I lost,” he said.
Christie said the purpose of his appearance was not only to highlight recovery, but honor those who gave of themselves to assist others during the storm.
“Those person to person, citizen to citizen stories are the ones that people will remember, those are the ones that you remember the most and those are the people that will be most important to you in your life and we try to do the best we can to facilitate and make those relationships easier,” Christie said. “As we move forward, there will continue to be challenges for us to meet, and as we meet those challenges, each and every one of you will think back to this period of four years, and whatever challenges come forward I pray they’ll be significantly less than what we dealt with on October 29, 2012.”