KEANSBURG – On a small stage set against the backdrop of a house propped-up on newly-laid cement pilings, Gov. Chris Christie took a moment from talking about the state’s post-Hurricane Sandy home elevation program at an event here earlier today to address more pressing political issues.
Regarding the U.S. Senate campaign of a publicly-obscure Republican contender Jeff Bell, Christie said he’s not opposed to helping with fundraising efforts and making appearances on the campaign trail.
He said he’s hopeful — but not certain — New Jersey will find itself among the recipients of a $1 billion national resiliency competition announced by the Obama administration last month to help fund post-Sandy recovery efforts.
“I understand it’s supposed to be competitive, and we’re going to go in and propose some resiliency projects that would merit getting some of that billion dollars that’s remaining in Sandy money for projects in NJ,” the governor said to a small crowd of residents and reporters gathered on the quiet residential street. “But my understanding is that there are no preconceived notions and no prior allocations of that money.”
He lends no credence to recent allegations that prosecutors are closing in on indictments against four staffers in his administration involved in ongoing bridge-related controversies — “I don’t comment on every baseless rumour that gets put into some trashy website,” he said — and he still “has every desire” to nominate Kevin O’Dowd, his chief of staff, as state Attorney General.
“The fact of the matter is Kevin has a choice to make as well,” the governor said, adding that the two had plans to talk today about the issue. “It’s a two way street.”
And, after dismissing questions about a potential presidential run — recent trips to Primary-battleground states like New Hampshire and planned visits later this month to Iowa continue to stir interest on the subject — Christie stopped to defend his nominee for chairman of the Port Authority: retired chief executive of the Chubb Corp. John Degnan.
Democrats tasked with vetting Degnan — whose son Christie hired twice, once as a federal prosecutor and most recently as head of the state Commission of Investigation — criticized the governor’s choice last week, arguing that previous relations between the two put the nominee’s independence into question.
Degnan would replace the embattled agency’s former chairman David Samson, who resigned early this year in the wake of Christie’s much-publicized George Washington Bridge controversy.
But Christie was adamant about his selection.
“[John Degnan] was Attorney General under Gov. Brendan Byrne, and Democratic candidate for governor of New Jersey … and somehow people think he’s what, a puppet of mine?” Christie asked. “John Degnan is a smart, tough, independent guy, who has been a lifelong partisan democrat. Now, if they can’t approve somebody like that, then what they’re telling you is they won’t approve anybody. Because I don’t think I could do a whole heck of a lot better than appointing somebody who had the trust and confidence of Governor Byrne, who had an extraordinary career in business after he left government, who was a Democratic candidate for governor. Somehow that’s a puppet for a Republican governor?”
“John Degnan speaks his mind, he’ll go there and provide the type of independent leadership that the port authority needs and that’s why I picked him,” Christie added. “Because at this point in his life, he doesn’t need to do this. He’s retired from his professional career, he could spend most of his time playing golf and playing with his grandchildren. And instead he’s taking some of that time and putting it into helping the Port Authority. That’s a pretty selfless public servant — for no pay, by the way.”
The governor announced two upcoming out-of-state trips — one to Allen & Co.’s annual conference Tuesday in Sun Valley, Idaho, and another to the National Governors Association’s conference later this week in Nashville, Tennessee — before a state-owned helicopter swooped in to carry him off.