Commentary: Chris Christie and the shrinking fleece of leadership

On Thursday, New Jersey had a governor again.
While the latest forecasts show New Jersey is probably going to miss a Hurricane Joaquin uppercut, the storm was able to force presidential candidate Chris Christie off the campaign trail and into a State House bunker to warn citizens of yet another impending storm. 
“I need all of you to prepare today,” Christie told residents of four South Jersey counties as a separate storm system not related to Joaquin makes its way through the area. “Now is the time for you to prepare.”
It’s a reprisal of a role Christie played to perfection back in 2012 after Superstorm Sandy leveled the Garden State – a bipartisan, Obama-hugging, no-nonsense “Get off the damn beach!” leader trying to help residents sort through their shattered lives following the devastating storm. Call it a “New Jersey Comeback” of sorts. 
All he needed was his trademark fleece, which he told reporters he and wife Mary Pat have seemed to misplace. 
“I believe it’s in my closet,” he said. “But I have to tell you: I haven’t eyeballed that baby in a while. So when I get home from Boston tonight, that’s one of the things I’ll be looking for.”
Yes, that’s Boston, Mass. Christie did attend a fundraiser and private event there last night before returning back to New Jersey, where he assures everyone he will give the state the was elected to run his full “Stronger than the Storm” attention, at least through Tuesday. 
That lost fleece seems to be the perfect analogy for the presidential hopes Christie has all but lost. While Christie’s response to Superstorm Sandy made him a household name, his bureaucratic ineffectiveness to help long-suffering residents in the storm’s wake has haunted his popularity both in and out of the Garden State. 
First, it was a sweetheart deal with a debris remove firm with political ties to Christie. Then, it was criticism that the Christie’s administration played favorites by doling out money to areas not hit hard by the storm because leaders pledged their support during his re-election campaign.
Let’s also not forget about the federal government slamming Christie’s initial Sandy Relief plan for doing too little for low income renters, shortchanging public housing residents and largely ignoring those who speak Spanish and other languages.
Then there were all those massive train delays due electrical problems in the state’s century-old rail tunnels, and the clueless loss of over 200 New Jersey Transit train cars and engines that were flooded in low-lying rail yards. Last year, Amtrak released a report that shows salt left behind by Sandy’s flooding continues to weaken and corrode the aging tunnel, and recommended shutting down the tubes entirely to rehabilitate them. 
Unfortunately, they can’t, because six months before the storm, Christie unilaterally canceled a long-planned train tunnel across the Hudson River for political reasons. Not only did the decision waste $1.2 billion that had been spent on engineering, it pushed back completion of a new tunnel about a decade to 2025 at the earliest, once politicians can agree on a way to fund it. 
That’s the problem with optics like this. At the very least, Christie probably thought he would remind voters of the take-charge leader they once supported in record numbers. “I’m better and I’m more ready,” he proclaimed during the press conference, a nod to the many Sandy-related mistakes that have transpired during his tenure. 
Unfortunately for Christie, it’s those three years of ineptitude following the storm that he’s remembered for now. Well, that and the annoying “Strong than the Storm” jingle, which proved to be as inaccurate as it was irritating. 
Remind you of anyone? 
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe

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