President Barack Obama joined Governor Chris Christie in touring a New Jersey beach town at the start of the tourist season to showcase the region’s recovery from Hurricane Sandy seven months ago.
The Democratic president and the Republican governor traded praise for federal and state efforts to restore the shoreline, New Jersey’s single biggest tourism draw, while saying the rebuilding isn’t finished.
“We’re not done yet; I want to make sure everybody understands that,” Obama told a crowd in Asbury Park after being introduced by Christie. “After all those losses, we don’t want them to think that somehow we’ve checked the box and we’ve moved on. That’s part of the reason I came back.”
Christie said the recovery was accomplished because politics were put aside after Sandy struck on Oct. 29.
“We all came together because New Jersey is more important, and our citizens’ lives are more important, than any kind of politics at all,” Christie said.
Sandy, which came ashore near Atlantic City, killed dozens of people and destroyed more than 365,000 homes in the state. Christie has said it will cost $36.9 billion for repairs and to prevent devastation from future storms.
New Jersey’s travel and tourism industry employs more than 500,000 workers, or about 10 percent of all jobs in the state, according to Christie’s office.
While the towns Obama visited -- Point Pleasant and Asbury Park -- escaped the level of devastation that Sandy wrought on shore towns such as Mantoloking, Seaside Heights and Ortley Beach, they are among coastal communities struggling to remind vacationers that they will be open for the beach season.
Terry Reedy, city manager in Asbury Park, said the stop by the president and other efforts to assure the public that the Jersey Shore is open for business are key elements in the rebuilding task for towns along the state’s shoreline.
“For the whole Jersey Shore, it’s huge,” Reedy said in an interview as he strolled along the boardwalk in a driving rain. “A lot of people made plans after Sandy to have their vacations elsewhere. To have the president and governor come in and make these kinds of speeches is an important part of our recovery process.”
Obama, 51, and Christie, 50, walked the Point Pleasant boardwalk in the rain, talking with local residents and business owners and displaying the bipartisan camaraderie that was evident when they first collaborated on storm recovery in the days after Sandy hit the state.
They stopped at “Touchdown Fever,” a football-toss arcade game. Obama missed throwing the ball through a tire in each of his five tries. Christie nailed it on the first try, winning Obama a stuffed teddy bear with a Chicago Bears logo.
“That’s because he’s running for office,” Obama said, giving the governor a high-five. He later told the crowd in Asbury Park, “Christie got it in the tire the first try, although I did pay for his throws.”
Christie said the recovery has made progress by putting partisanship aside, yet politics still were at play. The governor is seeking a second term in November and is a potential future Republican presidential candidate.
Obama spoke briefly with Christie’s Democratic opponent in the gubernatorial race, Barbara Buono, who was in a group of about 30 state and local officials who met with the president behind closed doors before his speech, according to the White House. Buono, a state senator from Metuchen, watched the address from a balcony of the convention center where Obama spoke, her spokesman, David Turner, said.
Christie praised Obama’s leadership in the storm response last year, giving the president a pre-election boost as he was being challenged by Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The governor, in turn, was criticized by some Republicans for complimenting Obama.
The president’s visit may boost his bipartisan credentials as he seeks deals with congressional Republicans on immigration and other issues. It also may boost Christie’s re-election bid in a Democratic state. Christie’s campaign has focused on hurricane recovery. A voter survey in March showed that 44 percent of Democrats said he deserved another four years, and 45 percent of Democrats had a favorable view of him in a poll last month.
Christie holds an edge of more than 30 percentage points in recent voter surveys over Buono. He dismissed claims last week by Democrats that his appearance in a $25 million advertising campaign to promote the state to visitors was designed to advance his candidacy. He said the ads, which are federally funded, are to let people know that New Jersey and its communities are open for business.