FREEHOLD, N.J. – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was criticized for vacationing in Florida as a blizzard pummeled the East Coast, defended his trip and praised his state for its response to the storm, which dumped nearly three feet of snow in some parts.
Speaking Friday at his first news conference since returning home, Christie said all major decisions on the state's response he made in consultation with state Senate President Stephen Sweeney. Sweeney, a Democrat, had been serving as acting governor after Christie, a Republican, left the state Sunday morning hours before the snow started to fall in earnest.
"We did not have any significant loss of life," Christie said, calling it an "extraordinary accomplishment."
The rising GOP star, who often is mentioned as a presidential contender, defended taking his children to Disney World for a week while Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno also was away and said he was in constant contact with his staff and Sweeney as the storm unfolded.
"I would have been doing the same thing here as I would have been there," Christie said. "I would have been in a room someplace. I would not have been out, like, driving a plow."
Christie and Guadagno were heavily criticized by residents and fellow lawmakers for being out of the state at the same time. A new website by a Washington-based liberal advocacy group called the Progressive Change Campaign Committee even features photos from Christie's campaign trips altered to depict him in a red-and-white stocking cap like the itinerant character in the "Where's Waldo?" children's books and asks, "Where's Chris Christie?"
On Friday, Christie was anything but apologetic. He said he wouldn't have changed anything he did and local mayors were to blame for unplowed neighborhoods. He then blasted lawmakers who criticized him and Guadagno for being absent even though those lawmakers didn't know the context of Guadagno's trip: She was on a cruise in Mexico with her ailing father.
"It was clearly a partisan thing," he said. "I know what my responsibility is. And I know my responsibility as a father. I wanted to be there with my kids."
Christie also said the lieutenant governor's position was created primarily to take over for a governor who leaves office permanently, not so the lieutenant could take over every time he leaves town.
Even if he wanted to return early, Christie said, there was no way he could have because of problems at commercial airports. He pointed to the fact his flight home from Florida, originally scheduled to leave at 9 p.m. Thursday, was delayed by six hours.
Christie also said there were no reports of storm-related deaths or of ambulances that couldn't reach homes in time, as there were in New York. That wasn't completely true. At least one woman gave birth in her car, and emergency responders had to use a sled to reach another man who was having a heart attack at his home and later died.
Those cases appeared isolated, however, given the thousands of people stranded in the storm, which saw 50 mph winds and more than four inches of snow come down an hour.
More than 550 vehicles had to be removed from New Jersey roads, and Christie said more than 2,200 pieces of equipment were used to clear the snow. He said that overall things went as well as could be expected, and he gave the state an A for effort and a B-plus for results in its response to the storm.
"We planned for this, and they executed the plan," he said.
Still, on Friday he signed a letter seeking money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help cover cleanup costs related to the storm.