STONE HARBOR — The second-graders at Stone Harbor Elementary had compelling questions prepared for Gov. Chris Christie when he visited Wednesday to congratulate them on returning to their hurricane-damaged school.
“Did you come here in a limo?” asked Peyton Jessick, of Dennis Township.
“Do you do math?” Gianna Scarpa, of Avalon, wanted to know.
“Is it hard being the governor?” wondered Markos Sakoulas, of Cape May Court House.
Christie told the children seated on the floor in front of him that yes, sometimes his job is tough, but this particular event was more fun than most.
He came to the borough because this small building housing 78 students reopened earlier this month after $600,000 in repairs following Hurricane Sandy. It was the first school to reopen of those closed long-term by the storm, and seven remain shuttered in the state.
After his lively discussion with the children, Christie also spoke to the adults, saying the state is committed to helping families who are still displaced by the storm, funding the acquisition of flood-prone properties and using an advertising campaign to make sure people realize that parts of the Jersey Shore will be fully operational this summer.
“The Jersey Shore is not a monolith,” he said. “South of Long Beach Island, like where we are here, these communities are going to be absolutely ready, and really the people are not going to see much of a difference from what they saw in 2012.”
In response to a recent statement made by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, expressing concern about the cost of a major contractor’s cleanup work in New Jersey, Christie said he expects the Senate Homeland Security and Oversight Committee to find the work was done responsibly.
“What the people in New Jersey wanted was to make sure that I got the debris cleaned up as quickly as possible, and that we did so in a way that was professionally done and environmentally safe,” he said.
In regard to the Revel casino and resort in Atlantic City filing for bankruptcy, Christie said he was “actually relieved,” saying that the alternative of closing would have meant more lost jobs.
“I’m not concerned about it,” he said. “I mean, obviously I wish it wouldn’t have needed to happen, but in the grand scheme of things, closing would have been a lot worse.”
He said he remains positive about the casino and the city’s future, and that it is premature to judge whether his administration’s revitalization efforts there will work.
“I’m still optimistic that if we take progressive steps that we can bring Atlantic City back to becoming a very profitable place to do business,” he said, “but, as I said before, it’s a five-year plan. We’re about two-and-a-half years into the five years, so I’m not ready to give Atlantic City or our plans a grade but incomplete.”
He said those plans, the effort to put the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in control of Atlantic City International Airport and the removal of the Garden State Parkway traffic lights in Middle Township are all indications of his commitment to serving southern New Jersey.
“The fact is that the southern part of the state is an important economic engine for the entire state, and the citizens down here pay a significant amount of the tax burden for the state, so we need to make sure that we are tending to infrastructure here and modernizing it and making sure that it continues to be attractive to businesses and tourists,” he said.
Christie spoke in a gymnasium that had been filled with supplies and debris in the weeks following Sandy. Floodwaters breached floodgates that surrounded the building, ruining drywall and supplies.
“All the kindergarten stuff was floating around,” said teacher Roberta Dean, of Cape May Court House, whose classroom Christie came to speak in.
The students spent the ensuing months in Avalon Elementary School, which had space to accommodate them because the two neighboring boroughs’ school districts already have a sending-receiving relationship between their two buildings.
Christie asked the kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders he spoke to about how it was attending Avalon over that time.
“Good,” the approximately 30 children answered.
“But better here, right?” he said.
“Yes,” they all again replied as one.
He didn’t ask them much else, saying he wanted to hear from them. He wound up answering several questions about his helicopter, how big his house is and whether he has “lots of work to do.”
Second-grader Luke McCrossin, of Stone Harbor, asked him, “What’s the hardest thing about being governor?”
“The hardest thing about being governor is having to say no to people,” Christie said. “Sometimes you have to say no, and when you have to say no to people, often times they’re not happy.”
First-grader John McAllister, also of Stone Harbor, quickly thought of a good follow-up question: “What’s the easiest thing to being governor?”
“This is pretty easy,” Christie replied with a chuckle, “getting to talk to all of you. It’s fun. It’s fun to come and see happy children who are back in their school.”
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