“I’m happy today to be in Spring Lake to announce this grant,” said Gov. Chris Christie.
Christie took time out from his busy presidential campaign for a Spring Lake news event, announcing $3.5 million in Sandy recovery aid. The money will build floodgates and a drainage pipe at nearby Wreck Pond, where Superstorm Sandy swamped dozens of homes.
“What’s so important about today is it’s another step, another step in a long and difficult recovery from a brutal and difficult storm,” Christie said.
“The governor’s been to Spring Lake before, and he pledged his help and support in the aftermath of Sandy. And I’m here to tell you that he meant every word,” said Mayor Jennifer Naughton.
“He’s broken promises, and I’m pissed,” said Sandi Mackay.
Mackay among those not basking in the governor’s glow. Superstorm victims from Ocean County held protest signs.
“We need the governor to finish the job here in New Jersey. Obviously he’s got greater political ambitions, but he — I assumed — thought as governor he had a responsibility to the citizens of this state,” Mackay said.
“He’s never in town. We’re in his rear view mirror. He’s the number one Republican cash cow. They’re gonna let him run all over the country and raise funds for the Republican Party. He’s not gonna win the presidential election. So he might as well come back to his own state. Finish the job,” said Joe Karcz of Beach Haven West.
Democratic lawmakers don’t appreciate Christie’s absentee style, either. They’ve sponsored bills to make him reimburse New Jersey taxpayers for his security detail’s hotel and travel bills while campaigning out of state. Christie’s refused.
“We’re spending a lot of money on this. As I said, the first three months of 2015, it’s averaged more than $60,000 a month without including overtime, vehicle expense, etc.,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg.
Sen. Ray Lesniak went a step further: his bill would compel any New Jersey governor who runs for president to resign his Trenton office first.
“He’s never here. And worse, worse, when he makes decisions, it’s based on what’s important for the voters in South Carolina, New Hampshire or Iowa, not what’s important and what New Jersey needs, but what would advance his political ambitions,” Lesniak said.
The governor’s often said he can run for office and run the state at the same time. His spokesman calls these bills just partisan drama.
“We are always pleased with every person that we help and we’re never satisfied until each and every person gets the help that they need,” Christie said.
The governor’s schedule puts him back on the campaign trail — Iowa tomorrow, New Hampshire next week. But he promised that his office will continue to focus on the people here in New Jersey.
With more than 7,000 homeowners still not back in their homes for good since superstorm Sandy, Gov. Chris Christie’s choice of campaign songs, Bon Jovi’s “Who says you can’t go home?” is cringe-worthy. Thanks to RREM, the state’s recovery program, and the state’s poorly selected contractors, my family has been kept from our home by the very program meant to help us rebuild. His slogan is “Tell it like it is.” So I will. It’s no surprise the song is cringe-worthy; so is his record in New Jersey.
I saw Christie, face to face, at the Agricultural Summit in Iowa in March. By then, my family was running out of options. We had been out of our house since Thanksgiving Day of 2014, at the builder’s request, and nothing had been done to lift our house so that we could get back in. We went 110 days with no communication from the RREM program, other than me calling every week to see what the delay was.
I decided to go to Iowa to ask the governor directly since he refused to meet us in New Jersey due to his “busy schedule.” I went to draw attention to the struggles of my family, and the 10,000 other families at that time in similar situations. These numbers are just the families we know of in the RREM program. Many didn’t make it in RREM or have dropped out, and those who rented but didn’t own have been bouncing around instead of being able to stay in their communities.
Our community came together to help me get there by donating more than $1,500 in three days to cover my trip. Many people who donated were financially strapped Sandy victims. My trip to Iowa garnered immediate results for me. My picture in the newspapers and my story being broadcast on the news got my builder’s attention. Work began the following week but then ceased again a few weeks later. I’m still not home, 219 days after my wife, two daughters and I moved out of our house. And while I believe an effort is being made on my behalf, it’s not enough for my family or thousands of others.
Though it got much less attention than the governor’s presidential announcement, a bill to provide efficiency and transparency in Sandy spending cleared the Statehouse with unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats. That bill will help our families. More legislation is in the works that would help families who were hit by Sandy avoid foreclosure, or increase accountability for the contractors who have been taking advantage of us.
The governor, who once claimed that he won’t rest until every Sandy victim is home, has moved on and left us with this mess. The bill that passed last week, S2825, will move on to the governor. Let’s hope he does the right thing and signs it and the rest of the legislation that comes his way to help our families get home.
We can’t let him continue to get in the way of our recovery by vetoing these Sandy-related bills. The people who are still here and focused on fixing the problem — our communities, our state legislators across both parties — haven’t.
But if Christie doesn’t, it is critical for both sides of the aisle to work together and finish the job here in New Jersey. We can’t let the governor’s veto mean we can’t go home.
Joe Mangino, of Beach Haven West, is a co-founder of S.T.A.R.T., a volunteer effort in Stafford that gutted, demolished or repaired more than 800 homes after Sandy. He also is a co-founder of the New Jersey Organizing Project, a community action group standing up for South Jersey and the Shore.
7/11/15 Sandy-related contractor complaints piling up | Mark Di Ionno, Star Ledger
Weeds now envelop the pile of broken concrete slab where Nancy Wirtz's home once stood. A swing set, bowed and rusted from neglect, is the only remnant of the place where she raised two children.
It was a simple house, like most in the Forked River Beach section of Lacey Township. Compact and rectangular, it was built on a spit of pinelands between Forked River, Oyster Creek and the Barnegat Bay in a neighborhood where streets are named for Florida towns and water fowl.
During Hurricane Sandy, two towering pines crashed down on the home's roof and the bay swamped its floor. And that was just the beginning of Wirtz's all-too-common Sandy story.
Her FEMA-backed flood insurance carrier paid just 10 percent of her $140,000 policy amount – after more than a year's wait – even though the home had to be demolished. So she entered the state's Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program (RREM) and got a $150,000 grant for a new, elevated house.
And that's when she met her builder and her story became a typical saga in this third summer of Sandy; one of widespread contractor entanglements and complaints ranging from slow or sloppy work to outright thievery.
Wirtz said her contractor took half of her grant money to start work but then told Wirtz to certify the architectural designs as her own -- which would have made her responsible for any flaws.
That's when she fired him.
"He told me he had hired an architect," she said. "The town building inspector told me (the contractor) got the plans off the internet said he'd done it before."
Wirtz said the contractor has since returned $20,000 of the $75,000, but never mopped up the demolition job.
"So basically he charged me $55,000 to tear down a small house," she said. "Now I don't have a contractor, I don't have the money, and I don't have a house."
Such stories abound. One contractor failed to winterize homes being elevated in Long Branch and Union Beach, leading to water-damage and mold infestation. Another had a house slide off elevation cribbing in Union Beach, destroying a structure that survived 90 mph winds and a historic tidal surge. In Toms River, another was charged with stealing at least $75,000 from a 92-year-old widow.
The total numbers of complaints about contractors are hard to lasso, just like the men who run from job to job, make excuses for delays, shift blame to subcontractors, and refuse to fix shoddy work or bring jobs up to code. Voicemail recordings that say "leave your number and I'll call you back," are the final lie in a litany of broken promises.
Some complaints go to town code officials, others rise to county consumer affairs divisions or prosecutors, still others go to various state agencies.
Some are resolved quickly, others lead to investigations that drag on, as authorities sort out "he said-they said" allegations and follow financial paper trails. So no one knows how many complaints there really are.
But in Sandy-strafed Ocean County alone, the Division of Consumer Affairs fielded 501 home repair complaints in 2014, and 449 last year – compared to 298 in 2012, the year the storm hit.
"Eighty percent are Sandy-related," said Stephen Scaturro, the division director.
Monmouth County's Division of Consumer Affairs has dealt with 280 Sandy complaints. Laura Kirkpatrick, the county spokeperson, too, said 80 percent were contractor-related.
"There are many good, reputable contractors out there," said Scaturro. "But, unfortunately, we also have unscrupulous, unconscionable scam artists who take advantage of people who are distressed and desperate."
In many cases, homeowners don't file complaints because they're afraid contractors will freeze them out during litigation.
"If I go to consumer affairs or the police, my guy's not coming back," said Steve Burkhardt of Toms River. "He'll disappear."
When Burkhardt's home on the Barnegat Bay was destroyed, he signed a contract for $439,000 for a new, elevated house, and "it was supposed to be turn-key," he said. "It's been $100,000 over that and we're still not close."
"He told us 150 days," said Linda Burkhardt, Steve's wife. "It's been 953 days."
The house was to include an elevator, so Linda's elderly parents could move in. They have both since died, and the shaft remains empty and unfinished. Other problems include a broken tub, unanchored stairways, uneven door jams and window casings, and sloppy siding trim.
"Meanwhile, I keep paying subcontractors out of my pocket because they can't find him," Steve Burkhardt said. "Otherwise we'll never get in."
Two doors down from Burkhardt is the still-vacant house of Ida Terranova, the elderly widow police said was victimized by contractor Joe Reiss of Blue Diamond Construction of Monroe. Reiss's attorney, Evan Nappen of Eatontown said Reiss was unfairly singled-out "as the manager" of the company and charged.
"We're working on an administrative solution," Nappen said.
Pat Miller of Blue Diamond Contracting of Jackson – which has built a model hurricane-proof house in Keansburg -- had strong words for the miscreants in her field.
"They make up names close to names of reputable companies, like ours," said Miller. "It's Crooksville out here. It's disgusting."
For the 10,800 homeowners in the state RREM program, there were some protections, whether people chose Pathway B (finding their own contractors) or Pathway C (having a state assign a contractor).
To get state work, Pathway C contractors had to meet certain requirements, which included submitting litigation and safety histories and proof of insurance, said Lisa Ryan, spokesperson for the state Department of Community Affairs, which administers the program.
The state also tried to protect Pathway B homeowners by making sure the contractors were registered and had not been debarred, Ryan said.
Neal Buccino of the state Division of Consumer Affairs said his agency fielded only one complaint about a Pathway C contractor.
But one Pathway C contractor failed to winterize the homes of Robin Buck of Long Branch and Grace Caputo of Union Beach. Ryan said the company has since left the program it will compensate those homeowners.
For Caputo, that compensation is in dispute. After the storm, she replaced damaged flooring, Sheetrock, appliances and furniture – not uncommon for people who were unsure if they had to elevate their house.
"Everything was new," she said. "Now I have mold and I'm back living with my parents."
The state has assigned her a new contractor, but work has not yet begun.
CONTRACTOR PROBLEMS? Here are some helpful contacts:
• New Jersey State Division of Consumer Affairs: 973-504-6200
• Office of the State Comptroller: 855-OSC-TIPS (855-672-8477) or email@example.com
• Office of the Attorney General – Statewide Sandy Fraud Working Group: 855-SANDY39 (855-726-3939) or firstname.lastname@example.org
• Monmouth County Division of Consumer Affairs: 732-431-7900
• Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs: 732-929-2105
Mark Di Ionno may be reached at email@example.com. Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @StarLedger and find us on Facebook.
7/1/15 The two Christies: 'Destructive' to some 'refreshing' to others Erin McCarthy and Andrew Seidman Philadelphia Inquirer
7/1/15 The two Christies: 'Destructive' to some 'refreshing' to others Erin McCarthy and Andrew Seidman Philadelphia Inquirer
LIVINGSTON, N.J. - Even as 1,000 supporters cheered on Gov. Christie as he announced his candidacy for president on Tuesday inside Livingston High School, the scene outside was remarkably different, as hundreds denounced his policies in New Jersey.
The duality underscored Christie's polarizing style and demonstrated that even though the Republican governor has earned a reputation for confronting harsh realities with tough solutions, he's also lost the support of a wide swath of New Jersey residents.
Just 30 percent of the state's registered voters view him favorably, while 55 percent disapprove of his performance, according to a recent Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind poll.
"Gov. Christie's policies have been destructive for New Jersey. If he's elected president, they'll be destructive for the country," said Anthony Rosamilia, an American history teacher at Livingston and president of the Essex County Teachers Association. "A lot of people wanted to take part in sending that message."
On the other hand, Marissa Bucci, 38, who home-schools her three children, said she finds Christie "refreshing." She said, "You get tired of all the other politicians skirting around the issues."
Some of Christie's biggest detractors marched outside, including the largest teachers' union, the Sierra Club, and New Jersey Organizing Project, a group of residents unable to return to their homes 21/2 years after Hurricane Sandy.
Some chanted "Liar," while members of the Organizing Project stood outside their red, white, and blue bus, on which they had draped a sign that read, "Resign now."
Christie has drawn the ire of teachers' unions for reneging on his commitment to fully fund the state pension system, among other reasons.
During his speech, Christie touted his record in New Jersey, which he said included recovery from Sandy.
But outside, Joe Karcz, who has moved 13 times since Sandy and has followed the governor to various town-hall events across the country, held a sign that read, "Remember us?"
In April 2014, Karcz took a mold-covered ball cap to a Christie town hall meeting in Brick and asked for more rental assistance.
"We want him to do something or get out of the way," Karcz said Tuesday.
Closer to the gymnasium, the line for guest check-in wound through the parking lot. Invitations had gone to supporters via e-mail.
Supporters filed into the gymnasium, holding "Christie 2016 Telling It Like It Is" posters and circling the lectern in the center of the floor.
"They know how to craft a room," said Matthew Hale, a Seton Hall University political science professor in the crowd. "Eight hundred people will look like 10,000."
Frank Barone, 63, a retiree from Short Hills, praised Christie for capping annual property tax increases at 2 percent. "For that I'm eternally grateful," he said.
Barone, who said he had attended several Christie meetings, said the governor is "terrific on his feet."
"He doesn't sound like a typical politician, although we all know he is," he said.
Barone acknowledged Christie is in a tough fight for the GOP nomination, citing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich as two strong potential rivals.
Renee Czarnecki of South Hackensack was a fan of Christie's blunt persona: "He's not afraid to say what he's thinking and feeling at the time," said Czarnecki, who owns a music store with her husband. "The average person, I think, can relate to that."
Christie pledged to do as much on Tuesday.
"I mean what I say and I say what I mean, and that's what America needs right now," he said.
We're South Jersey and the Shore standing together for community solutions.