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January 26, 2016

Christie's verbal shortcomings can't be sopped up with a mop

N.J. gov's biggest sin wasn't leaving the state, it's his inability to handle critics like an adult

Certainly, some people who know Gov. Chris Christie personally would vouch for what they perceive to be his positive traits as a human being. After all, character witnesses testify on behalf of society's most heinous people before sentencing proceedings every day in American courtrooms.

Some words are more important than others, though, and none more than these: Chris Christie’s temperament is not befitting an American president.

There is a litany of instances which could be bullet-pointed here to serve as supporting evidence. Bridgegate. Expense account abuse. Misdirection of Sandy-relief funds. Harpooning Atlantic City.

“We had the governor on conference calls twice Saturday. We were updated regularly. The communications have been unbelievable.”– Lenny Desiderio, mayor, Sea Isle City, New Jersey

For brevity’s sake, though, let’s hone in on Tuesday’s exchange with a townhall attendee in Hooksett, New Hampshire.

It’s the place to which Christie fled as New Jersey’s coastal communities still wrung themselves out from a weekend nor’easter which some said packed more of a wallop than Hurricane Sandy.

It was an exchange to which Christie watchers have become accustomed, what with his penchant for talking down to teachers, former Navy SEALs, reporters, protestors and Boardwalk passersby.

Here’s a video of said exchange, which starts off friendly enough until the uncomfortable question arises:

For those who can’t watch the video right now, here’s a recap:

Christie was asked why he chose to campaign in New Hampshire over tending to his Jersey constituent flock and responded because the flooding is “already done.” Prompted by Christie, the woman with the mic in the audience then noted that she’s heard from friends “all over the state” that that’s just not the case.

Donning his stage mask of incredulousness, he fashioned that phrase into a mount upon which to stand victoriously. All over the state? C’mon, lady. Cape May County is the only place that’s flooded. And then, the oratorical coup de grâce:

“I don't know what you want me to do, you want me to go down there with a mop?"

Just like that, the hashtag #MopBoy was born and the fire of a quadrillion hot takes from one-time supporters and long-time haters alike was stoked.

While Christie’s knee-jerk streak of condescension – reminiscent of a desperate lawyer seizing a perceived opening in opposing counsel’s weak argument like the Kool-Aid Man blasting through a brick wall – did him exactly zero good.

That doesn’t mean he was entirely wrong, though.

Sure, flooding and damage extended well beyond north of Cape May County’s northern tip of Ocean City’s Gardens district.

Absolutely, it was aggressively tacky (at best) to bully a woman who dared ask a question on the minds of countless others.

But if you watch beyond the “mop” sound bite, the governor of New Jersey talks about detail steps the state has taken – in his absence – in the storm-recovery effort. Power-outage restoration. Beach erosion monitoring. Helping businesses find loans or grants if need be and open lines of communication while he’s out on the campaign trail.

“So, for your friends and family who are concerned about why I’m not there, I wonder what it is they think I’d be doing,” he said about two minutes after the mop reference. “You know, I’m the governor. I’m not the chief engineer. And, I run a government of 60,000 people. They know exactly what they need to do.”

Then, he noted that if he stayed in his state of elected employ, people would still politicize his actions: “If there were anything left for me to have to do, I wouldn’t have come back.”

That's all well and good. However, North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello is still completely justified in saying, “I am more disappointed, however, in the evident lack of concern or respect that he is showing for the first responders, residents, business and property owners of North Wildwood, Cape May County and other areas of New Jersey impacted by this storm.”

After all, his town of elected employ took the brunt of this storm, and he's zeroed in on the figurehead state leader, but things weren’t much better a dozen barrier-island miles north in Sea Isle City. 

Since Christie, who since apologized to Rosenello, didn’t respond a professionally delivered Twitter request for comment …

… I did the next best thing: I called my old friend Lenny Desiderio, who just happens to be the mayor of Sea Isle City, New Jersey, where I lived year-round from 1996 to 2000, where nor'easters regularly made windows shake to the point that it frightened Charlie Dawg.

Lenny’s a Christie guy but he’s also a seven-mile-island guy, so I value his input.

On Tuesday morning, he told me how the flooding was “far more difficult” to handle than that during Hurricane Sandy because calendar chronology meant wintry hurdles to overcome. He also noted that U.S. Sens. Cory “Shovelin’” Booker and Bob Menendez would visit Sea Isle later Tuesday to survey the damage.

Too busy to have heard about Mopgate before I shared the details – “I hear they’re jumping all over him” – Lenny had no complaints about how the Christie-led state has handled the situation thus far. Here’s what he said:

“The flooding elements with the rain, winds, snow and ice made it far more difficult than during Sandy which hit in the fall. But during this storm, in January in Sea Isle, we had a fire downtown that they fought for six and a half hours during unbelievable conditions to save neighboring structures.

“As far as a community, we can’t complain [about state support]. I’ve heard from Department of Commerce officials and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin, who asked what we needed.

“Christie’s chief of staff, on behalf of the governor, gave us updates. At the time, I said, because of the fire, a section of the community was without electricity, and I knew that Atlantic City Electric was overwhelmed. She said she was going to call them on behalf of the governor, and it got turned on.

“When the ocean meets the bay – and you remember this from living here – no one’s safe from flooding. We did have some homes suffer damage, but the ocean did not breach. It’s the first time I can recall [a storm like this] without a breach. Thanks to the island-wide beach replenishment and new dunes, there was no further damage because the flooding we did get came from the back bays.

“People from the state have already been here, surveying beaches for erosion, I had a chance to speak face-to-face with the lieutenant governor yesterday in Stone Harbor. They’re moving ahead. I can’t complain about what they’re doing. We had the governor on conference calls twice on Saturday. We were updated regularly. The communications have been unbelievable.”

Lenny’s words hold weight with me, considering that they’re coming from someone knee-deep in floodwaters.

So, what we have here is a case study in sound-bite driven labels being foisted upon someone who made a politically calculated decision, albeit a dangerous one for a candidate with a penchant for lashing out at those who question his motives, even as delicately as the woman in New Hampshire did. 

Christie’s biggest sin isn’t returning to the campaign trail, particularly since the team he left behind worked efficiently in his absence.

What reinforced the fact that he’s ill-equipped to lead America is his inability to communicate in a fashion that brought comfort and clarity to citizens in their time of need like his underlings were clearly able to do.

Not even the most brilliant of spin doctors can concoct a cheeky mop-involved photo op that'd sop up Christie's inherent interpersonal-communicative mess, for snide comments delivered without a moment's thought will always outweigh the explanations that follow.