President Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie—a Republican and frequent Obama critic—will tour damaged areas of New Jersey together today, proving that Sandy altered the political landscape in addition to the physical one.
Here’s what Christie had to say about Obama on the Today show earlier this week: “The president has been outstanding.” In other television appearances, he appeared to go out of his way to laud the president’s style. Then Christie went even further, telling a Fox News commentator that he wasn’t interested in Mitt Romney visiting the Garden State.
Is Christie hedging his bets on a future Obama administration? He isn’t the only one praising Obama and the federal government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had its reputation badly tarnished in the wake of Hurricane Katrina but is so far getting high marks during and after Sandy. Other public officials have praise for the agency. In an e-mail to me yesterday, Takirra Winfield, the press secretary for Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, wrote: “FEMA has been extremely helpful and has been embedded with us at the emergency operations center since before Sandy hit the state. Under President Obama’s leadership, FEMA arrives before the disaster hits and is ready and willing to help in whatever capacity is needed.” FEMA’s resources, Winfield added, “have been a tremendous asset in Maryland.”
Of course, Maryland is a Democratic state, and the presidential election is less than a week away. But it’s impossible to hear such compliments about FEMA without thinking back to the poor reviews the agency got after Katrina.
A lot has changed since 2005: Technology systems for monitoring weather have gotten much better, and the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 helped clean up the beleaguered agency. The current FEMA chief, Craig Fugate, came to the agency after years of experience in Florida as head of emergency management there (Michael Brown, President Bush’s FEMA head, had previously served as the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association).
If President Bush and Brown will be forever associated with the abysmal handling of Katrina, Obama and Fugate may be remembered for the successful handling of this one—and that may help Obama at the ballot box on Tuesday.