Sandy survivors blast Christie on slow recovery process - By MaryAnn Spoto, NJ.com
SEASIDE HEIGHTS — Gov. Chris Christie used the eve of the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy on Friday to hail the state's recovery process, but a group of hecklers who took exception to his claims accused him of exaggerating the progress.
In a visit to Jimbo's, a Seaside Heights boardwalk restaurant destroyed by Sandy, Christie got shouted down after saying only 1,700 of the 365,000 homes damaged by Sandy are still not repaired to the point of getting the homeowners back in.
Christie's comments came a day after the housing advocacy group Fair Share Housing Center told the Assembly Regulation Oversight and Reform and Federal Relations committees that some 7,000 homeowners, trapped in the morass of a state-run recovery program, are still not back in their homes yet.
"Governor, that's not true," one woman shouted.
Property owners say recovery is taking too long and they're facing foreclosure as a result
That opened a floodgate of cat calls from the crowd, including jeers from Christie critic James Keady and from George Kasimos, founder of the grass roots protest group Stop FEMA Now.
"That is a (bull) number, and you know it," Kasimos yelled. "There's 600 substantially damaged homes in Toms River now."
Chiming in was Keady, a former Asbury Park councilman and a failed state Assembly candidate who Christie infamously told to "sit down and shut up" during a Sandy gathering in Belmar for the two-year anniversary.
"Governor, the day you told me to sit down and shut up, you said that you would meet me any time, any place to debate Hurricane Sandy," Keady said.
Christie's office did not immediately respond to an email seeking clarification of the conflicting figures.
For his part, Christie largely ignored the shouts and instead started speaking briefly with some of the frustrated homeowners, promising them his staff would contact them on Saturday.
When the crowd eventually quieted about 15 minutes later, Christie said he understands their frustration but stressed he told residents after the storm that recovery would be a long process.
He appeared to place much of the blame for the remaining delays on unscrupulous contractors who take money but don't do the work. Christie said he was reticent to change the state's rebuilding program to allow property owners to choose their own contractors in the interest of expediency but did so because of the outcry from Sandy survivors.
Still, he said, the state has made great strides, particularly the Jersey Shore, which saw a record for tourism last summer.
"Let's keep things in perspective on what's been done and what hasn't been done, he said. "365,000 homes in the state... are going to take a while to rebuild. The fact that all those...are back and restored is something that I'm enormously proud of no matter how many people yell and scream."
Christie tried to calm the crowd by offering to have his staff meet with them individually to discuss their problems.
MaryAnn Spoto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MaryAnnSpoto. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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