New Jersey resident Cassandra Dock has a message for her state’s public officials: Knock it off.
“We gotta get this together,” Dock told a panel of Gov. Chris Christie’s cabinet officials and state administrators Wednesday during a public hearing on Hurricane Sandy relief funds in Newark, N.J. “Because I’m not happy being all over the news with what’s going on in New Jersey. Knock it off,” she said, her remarks drawing applause.
Christie and his administration are facing state and federal inquiries on multiple fronts. The U.S. attorney in New Jersey and a state legislative committee are probing whether members of his staff organized lane closures along the George Washington Bridge as an act of political retaliation. And the Department of Housing and Urban Development inspector general is auditing the $25 million in Sandy funds spent by the Christie administration on tourism ads featuring the governor and his family during his re-election campaign.
The state committee and the FBI are also looking into claims from Hoboken, N.J. Mayor Dawn Zimmer that members of the governor’s staff, including Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs Richard Constable, offered to give Sandy aid to her city if she moved forward on a development project favored by the administration. The Christie administration has repeatedly denied those claims.
The state held two hearings this week and postponed a third due to the winter storm as it prepares to distribute a second round of Sandy relief funding totaling $1.46 billion allocated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Dock, along with a handful of the hundred or so New Jersey residents who attended Wednesday's hearing, used the public hearing to excoriate Christie’s administration over its handling of the billions of dollars in federal Sandy relief funds already spent.
“Good evening. My name is Cassandra Dock, and I will thank you when I find out that you did what you were supposed to do in round one,” she said.
“You should have had hearings about your complete failure with your first batch [of Sandy relief aid] before you did the second,” Donna Jackson, another resident, said. “The hell that people have had to go through in this state, with your handling of this storm. I don’t see how you’re sitting here. I don’t,” she said.
Some residents praised the administration’s reconstruction efforts. Others criticized the decision to spend $25 million on tourism ads featuring Christie and his family amid his re-election campaign, saying the resources would have been better spent rebuilding the devastated New Jersey coastline.
Deb Ellis, the executive director of the New Jersey Coalition to End Homelessness, called the ad spending “wasteful and not needed.” The state is currently debating a plan to spend an additional $5 million on tourism ads.
“Do not spend $5 million on a tourism marketing campaign,” Ellis said to the officials. “Please do not waste the taxpayer’s money.”
Residents also took issue with the financing of a senior center in Belleville, N.J., which, according to a report in the Star-Ledger, Christie granted funding for in exchange for an endorsement by the town’s Democratic mayor.
“I’m not talking about somebody politically, I voted for [Christie] twice,” Dennis Farrell, who owns property in Union Township and Ortley Beach, told msnbc. “But hearing about $6 million being spent in Belleville -- is that craziness?”
Dock told the panel that residents would not have known how Sandy aid was being spent if allegations of impropriety had not brought forth by the Hoboken mayor.
“I wouldn’t have known about that project in Belleville. I wouldn’t have known about that project in New Brunswick,” Dock said. NBC News reported that the state’s Housing and Mortgage Finance agency approved nearly $5 million to build a luxury high-rise in New Brunswick, one of the towns largely spared from Sandy’s wrath, out of funding earmarked for the construction of affordable housing. According to the Star-Ledger, the building will classify less than a quarter of its dwellings as affordable.
The next town hall, in Port Monmouth, is rescheduled for Feb. 18.