Atlantic City's elected officials fired broadsides at Gov. Chris Christie’s scathing Hurricane Sandy-related criticisms of Mayor Lorenzo Langford at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
“We have a groupie governor chasing Bruce Springsteen … and (he) weeps whenever Obama talks to him,” Councilman George Tibbitt said. “It’s a joke to see our governor on SNL. He made an ass out of himself while people are still suffering.”
Referring to Saturday Night Live’s spoofs of the Christie-Langford row on its two most recent shows, Tibbitt spoke during Tuesday’s meeting, the first since the resort reopened after the storm. Tibbitt and the rest of City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to authorize nearly $1.5 million in spending to address storm-related property damage.
While the city was evacuated, Christie and Mayor Lorenzo Langford continued their public spat renewed just weeks before the storm when Christie stated Langford was “impossible to work with.”
Christie criticized the decision to shelter Atlantic City residents on the island, which he said encouraged people to defy evacuation and stay behind during the Oct. 29 height of the storm. As floodwaters receded the next morning, the two made separate appearances on CNN, The Today Show and other national media outlets driven by Christie’s comments. Then the SNL mentions began.
“The governor hasn’t been truthful. It’s a good thing he doesn’t have the spell of Pinocchio cast upon him, because if he did, his nose would be the largest part of his body,” Langford said during his address to City Council.
More than 30,000 of about 39,000 city residents got themselves off the island during the mandatory evacuation. The municipality also bused 3,600 people to shelters offshore, and housed another 287 in its shelters of last resort on the island, said Langford, who sat in Tuesday for city Business Administrator Ron Cash.
“Do the math —– any fool can see people heeded the clarion call. Only a fool would make that kind of mistake and not have the integrity to correct it,” Langford said. “But believe you me, it ain’t over and we, collectively, are going to set the record straight and … show you the hypocrisy that’s already taken place.”
By “hypocrisy”, Langford meant the governor’s singling out Atlantic City when other coastal municipal governments also sheltered their residents.
He pointed to the governor’s appearance with Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther as an example.
Christie appeared with Guenther and other local officials at President Barack Obama’s stop in Brigantine during his post-Sandy damage tour of the New Jersey coastline. Langford was noticeably absent from the event.
Langford told The Press of Atlantic City Tuesday that the White House had contacted him on the eve of the president’s arrival, and asked that Langford go to at Atlantic City International Airport in advance of the president’s arrival with one person of his choosing. Langford brought along Public Safety Director Will Glass.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” Langford said. “Somewhere along the line, things changed.”
Obama instead went to Brigantine — something Langford blamed on Christie during an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News. Langford said the Daily News story published last week was not entirely accurate, but he would not comment further on whether Christie or what else might have caused the change of plans.
Langford denied that he was prevented from crossing the bridge between Atlantic City and Brigantine that day. Instead, Langford met up with Obama on the airport tarmac just before the Obama boarded his departure flight.
“I asked him what, specifically, he’d have me say to the residents of Atlantic City, and he answered,” Langford said Tuesday. “He told me that his thoughts and prayers are with us, and that we have someone in Washington we (can) call, … that the whole alphabet soup of federal agencies, starting with FEMA, is at our disposal.”
Tibbitt wasn’t the only councilman who defended Langford on Tuesday.
“We respect what you did,” City Council President William “Speedy” Marsh said to Langford. “For seven nights, you didn’t have electricity, heat, nothing (at your home). Throughout that whole thing, you were still leading the city in the direction it needed to go. … Every night, you were riding the streets — not with State Police, not with a body guard, but by yourself to make sure people were OK. On Veteran’s Day, you were delivering people water.”
Marsh mentioned this, he said, because Langford’s grassroots leadership didn’t attract the same attention as his back-and-forth with Christie.
“You (took) a national embarrassment — that’s still continuing — and put the idiot in his place and call a spade a spade,” 2nd Ward Councilman Marty Small said.
The spat continued getting national airtime through last weekend with a second treatment by Saturday Night Live. The governor himself appeared on the Nov. 17 show’s Weekend Update segment jokingly criticizing all New Jersey mayors who provided shelter for residents.
The show’s opening skit Nov. 3 — the day after Atlantic City reopened — mimicked a Christie press conference during which the “governor” slammed Langford.
Both broadcasts highlighted the governor’s fleece pullover that was ubiquitous during public appearances through the storm and weeks since.
Like Christie, Langford almost always wears a suit and tie, but also dressed down for Sandy in a hooded sweatshirt.
Christie and spokesman Michael Drewniak were not immediately able to respond to Tuesday’s criticisms due to a previously scheduled radio address broadcast on 101.5 FM.
During the address, Christie spoke well of the city.
“Any rumors out there that they’re not on top of things ... that the Boardwalk needs to be rebuilt ... are completely false," Christie said. “Get to Atlantic City — if you can afford to and you want to take a deep breath and a rest. ... You help New Jersey’s economy by going to Atlantic City.”
Drewniak later said that logistics of Obama's visit were entirely up to the White House.
And concerns with the city's emergency management plan did not arise prior to the storm, he said, because no one previously anticipated "Atlantic City ... be(ing) ground zero for the storm of a lifetime" as was predicted until a few hours before landfall.
"We were reacting to this response to this disaster," he said.
He also said Tibbitt and others' comments were "silly", and described Langford as counterproductive, before declining further response.
Staff reporter Jennifer Bogdan contributed to this report.
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