The new refrain about Sandy’s “mask” by NJ Democrats and progressives is both worrisome and troubling. While there is much merit to the idea that the Governor is using Sandy to mask the economic failings of his administration, this line of attack as part of a 2013 strategic communications campaign is doomed to failure because it ignores the realities of the storm and its aftermath.
Hoboken is still wrestling with FEMA definitions of basements that make sense for the Gulf Coast, suburbs, or areas where the water table is high, but not for northeastern urban architectures. Perth Amboy took a big hit to its waterfront and South Amboy and Sayreville were essentially abandoned during the storm and its immediate aftermath. And that’s before we get to Monmouth and Ocean Counties. At last count there were approximately 10,000 displaced residents and only approximately 6,750 available rental units between the two counties according to FEMA. And that number may actually be increasing as people run out of couch surfing possibilities or temporary arrangements with family or friends become no longer tenable. These numbers also don’t include the annual population of people who live in the woods or their cars and seek indoor shelter during the coldest months of the winter.
Senator Sweeney’s comments yesterday and Bill Orr’s metaphor today of “Christie Hiding behind the Fleece Coat” do more harm than good. I spent the day today in the heart of Sandy-impacted communities in Monmouth and Ocean counties as part of a project I’m working on and in a professional role, not in the volunteer or community member role I’ve become accustomed to over the last couple of months.
The damage is real and the impact on people’s lives and livelihoods is very real and very palpable. The people who live in communities with substantial damage to homes and businesses are visibly exhausted. People want to talk, they want to share their experiences, but they also need to continue putting on brave fronts and professional appearances. While getting a late lunch/early dinner at a local place near Long Branch today I saw a couple and their 2 year old doing a massive juggling act ordering dinner, grabbing some yogurts for tomorrow’s breakfast, running the business. They own a local services business that is critical to homeowner, business and municipal recovery yet is still only a Mom and Pop business. Not the first time I’ve seen this tableau since Sandy either.
Monmouth County is an affluent county with extremes of poverty and clusters of people barely getting by. Communities like Asbury Park were just turning the corner economically and are at serious risk post-Sandy. The hard-hit Bayshore communities may have a large number of tea partiers but many of the people who live there struggle paycheck to paycheck and some of those communities require (and receive) high degrees of social services in the best of times.
To use Sandy as a political ploy puts the NJ Democratic Party at severe risk, not just in this election but for the next generation. The Latino community from Hoboken to Long Branch and points in between has taken some serious hits because of Sandy. Suburban independents and blue collar democrats in Monmouth and Middlesex counties may be less favorable to the NJ Democratic agenda if they perceive the Democratic leadership as less interested in long-term recovery and more interested in scoring cheap political points. The strong African-American community tucked away in enclaves throughout Monmouth County may not show up at election time anymore except for leaders who speak directly to their concerns and their community.
If we haven’t learned over the last 5 years that the Governor is extremely adept at exploiting divisions and fracturing fault lines, then we’ve learned nothing. Keep using Sandy to attack the governor on his failures and he will indeed see the biggest vote total for a Republican Governor in a generation.
Stay Tuned for Part II: Moving Beyond Sandy: Embracing a Progressive Economic Growth Strategy for NJ