Natural disasters are generally kind to mayors and governors. There’s enormous demand for them on camera, and unless their bureaucracies have really screwed something up, they get to strike the pose of the strong and responsible leader, providing critical information, urging citizens to take shelter and remain calm, and assuring everyone we’ll rebuild together.
For Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, this comes at a propitious moment. He goes from being peppered with questions about the $905,000 buyout he helped arrange for an ill-regarded schools chief, to being the calm and tireless leader of a city in distress.
Nutter looks good in a windbreaker, and clearly loves the public side of the job. If you didn’t see him on television over the weekend, you weren’t watching.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also performed well, urging shore denizens to evacuate, seeming forceful and in command throughout.
But his noon Sunday news conference, carried live by some TV stations, revealed something about him and his relations with the media.
He was cruising through the news conference when suddenly, in response to an inaudible question, he starts chiding reporters for always bringing up the fact that he was on vacation during a blizzard once. Voters don’t care about that, he said.
“That stuff’s much more important to all of you, who have that paragraph about me being in Disney World on F4, so you can just push it and insert it in every story that talks about a disaster,” Christie said. “I know that makes your lives a lot easier and it helps you to fill space, but the people of the state don’t really much care about it.”
A moment later, when he said he’d be flying over affected areas, he added that he wouldn’t be going to any of his son’s baseball games, bringing up the mini-scandal over him using a state helicopter to catch a couple innings of his son in May.
He said he was sure reporters had that paragrah on F5 ready to insert into stories.
Three things struck me about this:
1. Every governor or mayor gets ticked off at the media. Most manage to refrain from venting their displeasure with sarcastic potshots at reporters. Ed Rendell did this all the time.
2. I’d forgotten that Christie was in Disney World during a blizzard, and I barely remember the chopper flap. But I remember now, along with anybody else watching that live news conference.
3. As foolish as it may be to take gratuitous swipes at reporters and bring up unflattering, mostly-forgotten stories, there’s something appealing about a politician who isn’t always on message and will speak from his gut sometimes. Again, it reminds me of Ed Rendell.
You can see Gov. Christie’s news conference below. The digs at reporters start about 27 minutes in.
Finally, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has spent his first year in office largely ignoring the media. Anybody see him over the weekend?
UPDATE: I heard from Gary Miller, Deputy Director of Communications in Corbett’s s Office of Press and Communications, who gave me this statement:
“Gov. Tom Corbett was very actively involved in ensuring residents were prepared for Hurricane Irene, as well as addressing the storm’s aftermath. He was in constant communication with emergency management staff throughout the event. On Friday, he issued a proactive emergency declaration in Harrisburg. He held media briefings at PEMA headquarters in Harrisburg on both Saturday & Sunday. On Sunday night, he toured several flood-damaged areas of Philadelphia with Mayor Nutter. On Monday, he toured flood-stricken communities northeastern Pennsylvania. All of these events were publicized and televised. Gov. Corbett takes very seriously his role in ensuring the public stays well-informed.”