New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s beach visit during budget crisis steams residents

Los Angeles Times
July 3, 2017
By Barbara Demick

Many New Jersey residents steamed Monday over aerial photographs that showed Gov. Chris Christie and his family sunbathing in the privacy of an empty beach while frustrated beachgoers were turned away because of a budget impasse.

State beaches, parks, museums and the division of motor vehicles had been closed since Friday because of the failure of the governor and the Legislature to agree on a budget. Although a compromise was reached late Monday that should allow the state to resume normal operations by Tuesday, the closure of the beaches over a hot weekend caused a public outcry.

Friends and foes alike condemned Christie’s beach expedition. His lieutenant governor, Kim Guadango, a Republican who is running to succeed him, said in a statement Monday: “It’s beyond words. If I were governor, I sure wouldn’t be sitting on the beach if taxpayers didn’t have access to state beaches.”

“Tell Gov. Christie: Get the hell off Island Beach State Park,” a banner plane flying along the Jersey shore on Monday chided.

The budget crisis in New Jersey resulted in 30,000 state employees being furloughed. Christie’s staff said that the governor had said earlier he planned to spend the weekend at a state-owned retreat in Island Beach State Park. But at a news conference Sunday, before he knew he had been photographed by the Newark Star-Ledger, Christie answered in the negative when asked whether he had gotten any sun during the day.

“I didn’t,” Christie said. “I didn’t get any sun today.”

After being told about the photographs, Brian Murray, the governor’s spokesman, tried to do a quick spin: “Yes, the governor was on the beach briefly today talking to his wife and family before heading into the office.”

“He did not get any sun,” Murray added. “He had a baseball hat on.”

Reaction on social media was fast and furious. #ChrisChristie instantly became among the most popular Twitter hashtags.

Christie appeared unchastened, scoffing at his critics. “The governor has a residence at Island Beach. Others don’t,” he said. “It’s just the way it goes. Run for governor and then you can have the residence.”

Meanwhile, the powerful New Jersey teachers’ union Monday won a temporary restraining order against Christie, blocking him from putting up misleading signs on state property blaming the shutdown on his political rival, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

“This facility closed because of this man,’’ read the signs plastered at the entrances of state parks and buildings that included the telephone number for the speaker’s office.

In the complaint filed before a state judge in Trenton, the New Jersey Education Assn. said “it is believed that the cost of the signage and the labor for erecting the signage is drawn from the state treasury,” and that the signs were “political advertising — and they are knowingly false to the extent posted on buildings or facilities that are open or quasi-open.”

The famously combative Republican governor is a lame duck whose second term ends in January. A prominent Donald Trump supporter during last year’s presidential campaign, he was dumped as head of the transition team. His political career was hurt by a scandal in which his aides were convicted of causing gridlock at the George Washington Bridge in 2013 in order to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., who had declined to endorse Christie’s reelection.

Both Maine and New Jersey were undergoing partial state shutdowns because of budget impasses. In Maine, many of the state’s 12,000 workers will go on furlough, although state officials said they would try to keep parks open.

In the case of New Jersey, Christie had demanded that the state’s largest insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, spend some of its reserves on drug addiction programs and other services — a plan that is opposed by Assembly Speaker Prieto, a Democrat.

In his last months in office, Christie has made treatment for addicts his signature issue and has spoken frequently about a law school classmate who died after becoming hooked on painkillers.

“Recognizing that he has limited time in office, he has wanted to get the state’s resources focused on this problem,” said Krista Jenkins, a political scientist at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “It is a laudable goal, but it has turned into a big mess with the state shut down over a holiday weekend, businesses suffering and the governor seen sunning himself on the beach.”

Last month, a Quinnipiac University poll showed Christie’s approval rating at 15%, the lowest of any governor polled by the university.

Joshua Henne, a political consultant who commissioned the airplane banner telling Christie to get off the beach, said Monday: “The banner speaks for itself. Ultimately, Chris Christie will be defined by a bridge and a beach.”