New Jersey Governor Chris Christie “prayed a lot and got lucky” that Hurricane Sandy came when it did, as he relies on rebuilding from the storm to boost employment, said Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
“His jobs package is a hurricane,” Sweeney, a West Deptford Democrat who’s considering running for governor, said today at a press briefing in Trenton. He quickly apologized for his “got lucky” remark.
Christie, a Republican seeking re-election in November, said in a Jan. 4 interview that recovery from the coastal superstorm will be the focus of tomorrow’s State of the State speech. Rebuilding will dominate the year and determine whether he wins a second term, Christie said.
“Whatever it was going to be, it’s now all going to be about the storm -- the aftermath of that and the rebuilding and recovery from that,” Christie, 50, said during a 35-minute interview in his Capitol office. “I don’t think there’s really anything that I could discuss with the people of the state that’s more relevant than that.”
Sandy hit New Jersey Oct. 29. The storm left 2.7 million residents without power, crippled mass transit and flattened some seaside communities. Christie said on Nov. 26 that he will seek a second term to help oversee rebuilding from Sandy, which by the administration’s estimate cost New Jersey $36.9 billion.
Michael Drewniak, a Christie spokesman, called Sweeney’s remarks a “heartless partisan attack” and said he should apologize to residents.
“Ask the thousands of New Jerseyans whose homes or businesses were destroyed or damaged if they view Hurricane Sandy as a partisan political issue, or if this is what they want to hear from their leaders at this time of recovery as we fight for disaster aid in Washington,” Drewniak said by e-mail. “No one ‘prayed’ for what New Jersey has endured.”
Sweeney, 53, made the comments in a news briefing by Senate Democrats ahead of the governor’s annual speech tomorrow which opens the year. The lawmakers took issue with his handling of unemployment, foreclosures, women’s issues and health care. In an e-mail late today, Sweeney reiterated that Christie is using Sandy to deflect criticism and highlighted his apology for the “lucky” statement.
The governor needs to present an economic-growth plan, with the state’s jobless rate at 9.6 percent, near its highest in more than three decades, Sweeney said.
“We all know the long road ahead for New Jersey as we look to rebuild after Sandy,” Sweeney said. “That does not mean, however, that we can ignore the serious issues that were facing our state before the storm hit.”
Christie hammered at former Governor Jon Corzine, the one-term Democrat he ousted in 2009, on unemployment, Sweeney said. Now as governor, he’s using Sandy to hide from the state’s economic crisis, Sweeney said.
Sweeney, the state’s highest-ranking Democratic lawmaker, has said he would consider running against the governor if Newark Mayor Cory Booker passed. Booker, a Democrat, said on Dec. 20 that he would run for a U.S. Senate seat in 2104 rather than challenge Christie this year. Sweeney said today he still hasn’t decided whether to run.
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville, said as the election nears, the political discourse will grow louder and Sandy’s devastation will be less immediate. The economy, taxes and jobs will re-emerge as central election themes, he said.
“It’s an election year and it becomes the silly season for political rhetoric,” Dworkin said. “People will say things and then recast their words on both sides of the aisle.”