Christie says New Jersey is seeking to reach ‘new normal’
(MCT) — KEANSBURG, N.J. — And on the seventh day after the storm, President Barack Obama called New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie from Air Force One and put Bruce Springsteen on the phone.
Although the Democratic rocker has a notoriously frosty relationship with the Republican governor, Springsteen apparently appreciated the love Christie displayed last week for their battered home state.
Not only did they chat from Obama’s campaign trail Monday, according to the governor, but Springsteen gave him a hug at the Sandy benefit telethon Friday night. He told Christie he was proud of him.
“And he told me it’s official: We’re friends,” Christie said.
The governor called the experience a highlight of an otherwise devastating week. Christie surveyed more of Sandy’s impact Monday, when he visited two Monmouth County towns badly hit by the storm surge.
He saw foundations gutted and siding ripped off homes; he passed destroyed belongings on the sides of streets, and one sign reading: “I assure you; we’ve got guns.”
Christie spoke Monday of trying to reach a “new normal”: gas for cars, kids in school, roads free of trees, and clean water.
The state is getting there. About 765,000 households remained without power as of Monday afternoon, down from 2,700,000.
Only about 40 percent of school districts have reopened, and NJ Transit could operate only 13 of its normal 60 trains into New York City’s Penn Station.
There are “serious power and signal and track problems along the Northeast Corridor,” Christie said. As a result, he created an emergency bus service to take workers into the city.
An additional 350 buses from the U.S. Department of Transportation were expected to begin to arrive Monday to augment NJ Transit’s fleet, according to the offices of Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
To handle security, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa swore in more than 280 temporary state troopers from the police forces of eight states.
Recovery at the Jersey Shore is mixed. Christie is allowing access to some barrier islands on a “grab-and-go” basis: Property owners can take what they need and get out. And while the New Jersey League of Municipalities canceled its conference of local government officials for next week in Atlantic City, as of Monday all 12 casinos had reopened.
Tuesday poses a big test as voters go to the polls — or try to.
As of Monday, workers had relocated or restored power to more than 500 polling locations, said Ernest Landante, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who serves as secretary of state. Nearly 100 polling stations remained inaccessible; Landante said the number would decrease by Election Day.
Guadagno has authorized voters displaced by the storm to vote at any polling station in the state. But they would receive a provisional ballot, which includes only statewide races — president and U.S. Senate.
She also has agreed to let those affected by Sandy vote via email or fax, a method previously reserved for overseas voters that has wrought controversy among election watchdogs. As a measure of security, the state will require physical and original versions of the electronically cast ballots be returned to ensure authenticity.
Also of continued concern is gasoline. The governor urged calm Monday about his system of rationing in part of the state based on odd-and-even license plate numbers: “We’re not running out of gasoline.”
In fact, the Christie administration ordered 10 National Guard trucks Monday to carry 50,000 gallons of gasoline to Monmouth County gas stations that have power but no supply. And more gasoline will continue to be distributed, he said.
For most New Jerseyans, though, getting back to routines will require more than gas. Untold thousands continue to rely on help for shelter and food. Hundreds of thousands of meals have been distributed, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has teamed with the state and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey to produce 15,000 meals per day.
Christie visited two relief centers Monday.
At the one in Keansburg, Christie dropped off 34 cases of candy, courtesy of Nestle. Monday was New Jersey Halloween, the day that Christie had designated by executive order to avoid having children trick-or-treat Wednesday.
At a blacked-out relief center, he told the crowd that King Abdullah II of Jordan had called him and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain had sent him an email.
“They saw how tough New Jerseyans were on television,” he said. “You’re making people sit up and take notice of something we already knew: that the toughest, greatest people in America live right here in New Jersey.”
In Middletown, on a bay south of Staten Island, at least 90 percent of homes in one large swatch of town were damaged.
Susan Petraglia, 53, smiled as she thanked Christie for his work — but began crying as soon as he hugged her, touching her cheek at one point to apparently wipe away a tear.
“Thank you for your kind words,” he told her. “It really lifts me up.”
Christie spoke softly to Ginjer Doherty, 9, who would likely never live in her home again.
Christie put his hands on her shoulders and bent down to look in her eyes. “It’s bad stuff, but you know what? You have a bunch of adults here who are going to take care of you,” Christie told her, “so you’re going to be just fine.”
At the news conference later, Christie referenced his encounter with the girl.
“I’ve hugged a lot of crying adults over the last week, and I’m OK with that,” he said. “I have a harder time dealing with crying children and children who look scared.”
Moments later, he turned on the testosterone: “America couldn’t take New Jersey toughness before this? After this, we’re going to be hell on wheels.”
Christie’s own home in Mendham is without power. Although he is staying at the governor’s mansion in Princeton, he mentioned several times Monday that he has been wearing the same suit pants for eight days.
Christie was also wearing the blue fleece that has become such a part of his storm persona that the actor who impersonated him on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend wore an identical one.
The skit referenced Christie’s new coziness with Obama during a week in which he was expected to campaign with Romney.
Asked Monday what would happen with the election, Christie said Romney would win, prompting moans.
“Whatever. Listen, he asked,” Christie said. “My guess is as good as yours.”
(Inquirer staff writer Joelle Farrell contributed to this article.)