Obama, Christie announce the start of summer at Jersey Shore

Staff Writers

President Barack Obama and Gov. Chris Christie reunited to tour the Shore Tuesday, addressing a crowd of hundreds gathered on the Asbury Park boardwalk and announcing to the nation that New Jersey is officially open for the summer.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Obama said, on May 28.  “There are homes to rebuild.  There are businesses to reopen.  There are landmarks and beaches and boardwalks that aren’t all the way back yet.

“But thanks to the hPresident Obama addresses a bipartisan crowd of residents and elected officials in Asbury Park on May 28.President Obama addresses a bipartisan crowd of residents and elected officials in Asbury Park on May 28.ard work of an awful lot of people, we’ve got wonderful shops and restaurants and arcades that are opening their doors. And I saw what thousands of Americans saw over Memorial Day weekend:  You are stronger than the storm.”

Christie proudly introduced Obama to the crowd of residents and elected officials representing both sides of the aisle, many of whom waited in a cold, seaside rain for hours prior to the event. Following the first Memorial Day weekend for the post-Sandy Jersey Shore, Christie credited the region’s collaborative efforts for enabling beaches from Sandy Hook to LBI to reopen in time for the holiday.

“This past weekend has been an incredibly important weekend in New Jersey’s history,” he said.  “We all came together as a community over the last seven months to endure and begin to recover from the worst storm that this state has ever seen … Republicans, Democrats, Independents, we all came together because New Jersey is more important and our citizens’ lives are more important than any kind of politics at all.”

In Obama’s first visit to the area since shortly after the Oct. 29 storm, he and Christie made an unscheduled stop in Point Pleasant, where the governor apparently showed the commander in chief a thing or two about the boardwalk.

“We played some Touchdown Fever,” Obama said, referring to the carnival game requiring players to toss a football through a tire. “I have to say, Christie got it in the tire the first try, although I did pay for his throws. I played a little Frog Bog, and Gov. Christie’s kids taught me the right technique.”

Tuesday’s speech came on the heels of a presidential visit to Oklahoma, where Obama witnessed the devastation wrought by a number of powerful tornadoes earlier this month. His return to New Jersey, he said, was a message to all of those currently struggling to pick up the pieces following a natural disaster.

“Part of the reason I wanted to come back here was not just to send a message to New Jersey, but send a message to folks in Oklahoma,” he said. “When we make a commitment that we’ve got your back, we mean it. And we’re not going to finish until the work is done.”

Part of the Jersey Shore’s recovery, which Obama said would be measured in years, not months, includes increased protection against future storms, he said.

With the official start of the 2013 hurricane season less than a week away, Obama called on vulnerable residents to visit the website Ready.gov for tips on preparedness and other storm information. The president also discussed a number of ongoing federal mitigation projects and a recent New York/New Jersey transportation aid package that he said would help the area recover and protect itself for the long term.

Hundreds of residents waited in line over the holiday weekend for free tickets to the event, which was heavily attended by elected officials on both sides of the aisle as well. Area representatives included Congressman Frank Pallone (D-6), state Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-13), state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-13) and gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono (D-18), as well as local officials such as Middletown Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger and Keansburg Mayor George Hoff.

“I was very pleased,” Hoff said after Obama’s speech. “I was glad that he mentioned that people are not back in their houses, for the fact that it’s a main concern.

“We have 400 people still displaced,” he added. “We have 80 homes scheduled to come down. 1,800 [out of 4,000] homes were tagged as having some type of water damage, electrical damage or structure damage.”

The “open for business” mantra is just as important for Bayshore towns such as Keansburg, Hoff said, where local workers, business owners and taxpayers all benefit from the bayside Keansburg Amusement Park, which has reopened.

“The boardwalk is a big part of the Keansburg economy. People come in, pay the meters and the locaHundreds line up along Ocean Avenue in Asbury Park on May 28 in preparation for speeches by President Barack Obama and Gov. Chris Christie.Hundreds line up along Ocean Avenue in Asbury Park on May 28 in preparation for speeches by President Barack Obama and Gov. Chris Christie.l businesses generate from that,” he said.

A number of residents were not only impressed with Obama’s speech, but the fact that he visited Monmouth County in the first place.

“For him to come to Asbury Park is great,” said Manalapan resident Sammy Steinlight. “Superstorm Sandy wasn’t a one-week crisis. It’s going to take months and years for us to get back up. It seems like he understands that, and, who knows, maybe he’ll be back here again when all of these repairs are finally complete.”

South River resident Susan Olsen, however, said her community is still struggling with basic rebuilding and repairs, calling on the federal government to provide more resources and less talk.

“It was a good speech, but that’s about it,” she said, explaining that dozens of the more than 200 homes in her town that were damaged during Sandy have yet to be re-inhabited. “It really has to be about the homeowners right now. There are homes with mold damage, inside and out, that haven’t been seen yet because nobody has so much as turned a key in the door. People need help with furniture, repairs — just so many things.”

During his speech, Obama assured the crowd that Sandy-impacted residents would not be forgotten and federal aid would continue for the region “until we finish.” As that work continues, he said, the Jersey Shore will be open to help provide some relief and relaxation.

“Life isn’t always easy.  We’re a people who have to work hard and do what it takes to provide for our families,” he said. “But when you come here, everything’s all right.  And whether you spend a lifetime here, or a weekend, or a summer, the Shore holds a special place in your heart and a special place in America’s mythology, America’s memory.

“So let’s have some good times on the New Jersey Shore this summer,” he added. “And next summer and the summer after that, and all year long, America. Bring your family and friends.  Spend a little money on the Jersey Shore. You’ll find some of the friendliest folks on Earth, some of the best beaches on Earth.  And you’ll see that even after a tough couple of months, this place is as special as ever.”