LITTLE FERRY – There was a lot of backclapping on the stage, with a ramrod federal Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan getting in on the act with praise all around.
“Doesn’t he get the joke?” someone asked in the audience, a media type, under the mike-aided announcement of the maintenance of $1.8 billion in Community Development Block Grant funding for Sandy rebuilding.
“Didn’t you hear at the beginning? It’s his wife, not him, who’s from New Jersey,” another voice whispered back as Donovan stood at attention in sunlight with children playing in the background running through a list of superlatives for Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) and his boss, President Barack Obama.
“I’ll be back,” Donovan announced, a day after Christie told reporters that government has to do its job and get out of the way.
It briefly looked like the lovefest would end when Pascrell squeaked in a comment from the stage about those “fighting the science” of climate change and its impact on weather patterns and an upsurge in storm phenomena like Sandy.
Christie didn’t take the bait.
“No,” he told a reporter when asked if he’s reconsidered the possibility of climate change’s influence. This is about infrastructure, he insisted. “The rest is a scientific discussion and debate.”
Donovan felt compelled to add his views on the subject.
“When you walk around (and tour the devastation wrought by Sandy), people don’t care about the causes,” he said. “They know they’re at risk.”
Donovan described Christie as “inspiring us all,” and called Pascrell “relentless.”
It was Pascrell evidently who prevailed on Donovan to make an appearance up north in Little Ferrry, which got kicked in the teeth by Sandy – and not just falling prey to making recurring visits to the Jersey Shore.
The press tried to drag Christie into an explanation of his endorsement – scheduled for later in the day – of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Steve Lonegan.
A movement conservative, Lonegan said he would have rejected the $50 billion federal aid package for Sandy, and routinely mocks climate change.
Why, David Cruz of NJTV wanted to know, did Christie appear less than energetic about his support for Lonegan?
“It’s a little premature to assess my energy level,” the governor grinned.
There was some grumbling, too, in the crowd about why Christie couldn’t have announced his endorsement of Lonegan in Bergen County – within walking distance, someone growled, of today’s event with Donovan.
“If it was up to Steve Lonegan you wouldn’t see Secretary Donovan standing up there today,” said state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36).
Bergen Freeholder Maura DiNicola, a Republican up for re-election this year, said, “There’s politics and there’s government, and the governor (who’s in the mix for a 2016 presidential run) does a good job of navigating both.”
With his jacket slung over a shoulder, Pascrell in sunglasses headed for the exit when PolitickerNJ.com asked him if he was annoyed at Christie for backing Lonegan.
During his 2009 Democratic Primary last year, Pascrell made the Tea Party – not Democratic opponent Steve Rothman – the punching bag.
“I’m filled with joy,” he deadpanned.