Earlier today, Gov. Chris Christie announced that Marc Ferzan — the “storm czar” widely lauded for guiding New Jersey to safe refuge in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy — is stepping down from his post as head of the Office of Recovery and Rebuilding. For the most part, reactions to the announcement have been bittersweet.
That is, with the exception of Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel. His response?
“As New Jersey’s Sandy Czar he should have abdicated a long time ago. Calling him the Rebuild Czar was an oxymoron since he so mishandled and delayed our efforts after Hurricane Sandy,” Tittel said. “The programs were so mismanaged and there were so many delays with so many people still out of their homes. Hurricane Sandy was a disaster, but also Ferzan’s handlings of our efforts afterwards have also been a disaster.”
Tittel, a vocal critic of New Jersey’s handling of Hurricane Sandy response and recovery efforts, aired out his beef with Ferzan in an email and in PolitickerNJ’s office earlier today. He criticized the state for its sluggish rebound in the wake of the storm, which he says has led to the unmet needs of thousands of residents and billions in unspent aid.
A lot of it, he noted, has to do with a lack transparency.
“We have seen failure upon failure trying to get New Jersey moving forward and back on its feet,” Tittel added. “Mr. Ferzan was a symbol of arrogance and frustration because he refused to meet with people impacted by Sandy and even the legislature. He very rarely even spoke to the press. For more than a year he barely came out of his office. There was clearly a lack of transparency and accountability. As Czar he was Ferzan the Frustrating.”
Ferzan was appointed Executive Director of the Office when it was created in late 2012, and during his tenure was charged with the distribution of billions in Sandy aid money throughout the state. According to Christie’s administration, he helped lead the redevelopment of boardwalks up and down the coast and launch a number of initiatives to help storm victims.
But Tittle argues more could be done — and indeed has been done, in places like New York, which received almost double the amount of aid New Jersey did, partly because it based its recovery efforts on “sound science” and not “political science,” he said. He notes that the state has manage to utilize only one-third of a second round of recovery funds awarded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development late last year, and that its new housing elevation program — touted by Christie in Keansburg this week — has only benefited some 200 people out of nearly 2,600 applicants.
At the same time, Christie has refused to address the issue of climate change, Tittle said, and has gone so far as to reject the idea that state agencies like New Jersey Transit need to prepare for future disasters brought on by its effects, such as rising sea levels along the coast.
“New Jersey is the only coastal state who has not been doing adaptation or mitigation for climate change and sea level rise,” Tittle said, adding that Christie and Ferzan “have done a wonderful job cutting ribbons on the boardwalks, but have not helped to get people back into their homes.”
Ferzan is leaving the Office to support a career opportunity for his wife, and will be teaching at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. He will be succeeded by his second in command, Terrence Brody.
Tittel holds out little hope that the change in leadership will improve conditions.
“It does not matter who is charge when you are promoting policies that are not working or haven’t worked,” he said. “Afterall they are following the Christie agenda. What we need is not just a change in leadership, but a change in policy.”