New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is flying high these days. After taking a hard stand against his GOP colleagues in the House on Sandy relief, his star has risen among both Republicans and Democrats in the northeast. While his national future is cloudy — it’s hard seeing too many GOP establishment figures lining up behind him right now — he has bipartisan support in his own state and in New York as well. Still, his defense of New Jersey Transit’s actions during Superstorm Sandy leave much to be desired.
While speaking to reporters earlier this week about his extreme disappointment in Congress, Christie again responded to criticism over New Jersey Transit’s handling of its rolling stock. Saying that NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein’s decisions were “not a hanging offense,” Christie issued a rigorous defense of the transit agency. A reporter and Christie engaged in the following exchange (via Transportation Nation):
Reporter: In light of the report last week that NJ Transit had been warned months ahead of time that rail yards in Kearny would likely flood in the event of a storm like Sandy, do you still support the leadership?
Christie: “I absolutely support the leadership — and I don’t believe that that’s what the report said. I mean, I think you’ve gilded that report up pretty well in the lead up to your question. I don’t think that’s what the report said. I think these guys made the best judgement they could under the circumstances. And all of you are geniuses after. Once you see that the Kearny yards flooded, you could say ‘well, geez, they should have moved the trains.’ Well, you know, if they knew for sure it was going to flood, believe me, executive director Jim Weinstein would have moved the trains. This is a guy with decades of experience in government, with extraordinary competence, who made the best decision he could make at the time. Sometimes, people make wrong decisions. It happens. It’s not a hanging offense.”
“If they knew for sure it was going to flood, we would have moved the trains” is a great statement in modern times. We already know what the report said because we had a chance to read it last week, and we know that Weinstein himself admitted that he hadn’t studied it much prior to the storm.
What strikes me about Christie’s language, though, is the definitiveness of it. Last summer, Christie yelled at surfers to get off the beach before Hurricane Irene when we didn’t know how Irene would hit the area or behave. We didn’t know what would or wouldn’t flood, but citizens were expected to act as though the worst might happen. Here, with Sandy — a stronger storm aiming directly at New Jersey — Christie is excusing NJ Transit’s response because they didn’t know Kearny would flood. Of course, they didn’t know; that’s part of the unknown of a weather event. But being safe rather than sorry is why New York had its transit system up and running relatively quickly.
New Jersey failed, and, as an added insult, some Metro-North trains suffered damage because of it. They were warned; they ignored the warnings; and Weinstein should be replaced. I think it’s that simple.