At town hall, Christie again blames feds for Sandy delays

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 New Jersey Gov. Chris Cristie addresses a crowd during the first town hall meeting since the 'Bridgegate' scandal on Thursday, Feb 20, 2014 (Tracey Samuelson/for NewsWorks)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Cristie addresses a crowd during the first town hall meeting since the 'Bridgegate' scandal on Thursday, Feb 20, 2014 (Tracey Samuelson/for NewsWorks)

New Jersey Gov.­­ Chris Christie hosted the first town hall of his second term Thursday.

The governor took questions from residents concerned about the slow pace of recovery from Superstorm Sandy, but many residents left disappointed they didn’t get more answers.

“I think we were all just snowed in there,” said Michele Wallbank, a Keansburg homeowner, who was upset that many of the questions focused on non-Sandy issues, from the need for reform of the state’s family court system to beautification of the state’s jughandles.

While there were a few protesters outside, the exchanges inside were mostly civil. Christie entered to a standing ovation and no one asked him about the recent scandal involving lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. Instead, the governor repeated messages that have become common refrains from his administration, namely that the federal government was causing many of residents’ problems and delays, not the state.

“The fact is that if the checkbook was purely at my disposal, and I could review your papers personally and not have the federal government involved, you’d probably be home already,” Christie said. “But I don’t have the checkbook and I can’t make these decisions by myself.”

He also cited a gap of at least $17 billion between the damages Sandy caused and the amount of federal aid allocated the state for recovery. Because of the inadequate funding, he said, the state was forced to make tough choices about who gets recovery grants, prioritizing low-income residents who sustained the most damage and have the fewest resources to fund their own recoveries.

The morning’s most heated moment was a question about why one of the state’s largest contractors in the recovery had been fired.

“Why was HGI fired?” asked Tom Largey from Sea Bright. “Why did you pay them $50 million and why did you privatize most of the grant program? You didn’t have to do that.”

“I just disagree with you,” Christie responded, addressing the state’s need for contractors, instead of explaining HGI’s dismissal.

When the crowd called for Christie to answer the question, he said the state couldn’t do all the work itself and that a new company had been hired to replace HGI.

That differs from earlier statements from his administration, which said that the state would not replace HGI and would instead take a more active role in overseeing the grants.

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