Two public hearings this week on how New Jersey plans to spend the next round of federal Sandy aid generated exactly what Gov. Chris Christie's administration did not want but knew was coming:
Two days of headlines about people being mired in an obviously failed grant process that has delivered precious little money into the hands of Sandy victims. Only approximately one-quarter of the $800 million in federal housing aid, which includes the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation grant program, has been distributed. One grant applicant described the process as more stressful than fighting in Afghanistan.
But team Christie was ready. A day after the first meeting in Galloway Township, two press releases and one video were issued by the Governor's Office. The headline on the video: "Governor Christie: We Have To Help Those Who Need It Most First." The beginning of a press release on the Working Families Living Expenses Voucher Program: "Continuing his commitment to assist Sandy victims in their recovery and rebuilding, Governor Christie today announced ..."
This would be laughable if the ramifications were not so serious for Sandy victims, who have had to deal with a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, repeated delays, unclear guidelines, misinformation and improper denials of their applications for critical grants.
Why not apply the same energy and immediacy used to write press releases to the task of fixing what's wrong with the Sandy aid program?
Maybe even some of those people churning out the press releases and making the videos could be put to work helping folks get the grants they need to rebuild their homes and their lives.
True, the Christie administration fired Hammerman & Gainer Inc., the politically connected Louisiana firm that had been hired to administer the grant programs - but it fired the company quietly, secretly even, lest officials actually be forced to acknowledge the state's unconscionable failure to distribute aid in a timely fashion.
The entire Sandy recovery effort - a key part of the Christie myth - has been marked by endless bluster, self-promotion, obfuscation and stonewalling.
It took a lawsuit by the Fair Share Housing Center - an effort Christie mocked in an editorial board meeting with The Press - to uncover the fact that nearly 80 percent of the people initially denied aid under two grant programs were, in fact, eligible and subsequently approved after appealing - if they knew to appeal.
When we first heard the Hoboken mayor's allegation that Christie administration officials were wheeling and dealing Sandy aid in return for approval of a Christie-favored redevelopment project, we thought that was worse than the Bridgegate scandal.
It remains to be seen whether Mayor Dawn Zimmer's allegations will be borne out, but this much is already true:
The complete and utter failure to efficiently and competently dole out Sandy aid in a timely manner may, in the end, prove to be the biggest Christie scandal of all.