FREEHOLD, N.J. - Gov. Christie, who was criticized for vacationing in Florida as a blizzard pummeled the East Coast, defended his trip and praised the state's response to the storm, which dumped nearly three feet of snow in some areas.
Speaking Friday at his first news conference since returning home, Christie said he made all major decisions on the state's response in consultation with Senate President Stephen Sweeney. Sweeney, a Democrat, was serving as acting governor after Christie, a Republican, left the state Sunday morning, hours before snow started to fall heavily.
"We did not have any significant loss of life," Christie said, calling it an "extraordinary accomplishment."
Christie defended taking his children to Walt 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 during the storm.
"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 criticized by residents and 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 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 said that he would not have done anything differently had he been in the state and that mayors were to blame for unplowed neighborhoods. He blasted lawmakers who criticized him and Guadagno for being absent, saying Guadagno was on a cruise off 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 said the lieutenant governor's position was created mainly to take over for a governor who leaves office permanently, not for every time he leaves the state.
Even if he had wanted to return early, Christie said, there was no way he could have because of air-travel problems. He said his flight home from Florida, scheduled to leave at 9 p.m. Thursday, was delayed by six hours.
Christie said there were no reports of storm-related deaths or of ambulances that could not reach homes in time, as there were in New York City. However, at least one New Jersey woman gave birth in her car, and emergency responders had to use a sled to reach a man who was having a heart attack at his home and who later died.
Those cases appeared minor, however, given the thousands of people stranded in the storm, which had 50 m.p.h. winds and more than four inches of snow come down in one hour.
More than 550 vehicles had to be removed from New Jersey roads, and Christie said that more than 2,200 pieces of equipment were used to clear the snow. He said things went as well as could be expected, and 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.
On Friday, Christie signed a letter seeking money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help cover cleanup costs related to the storm.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who chairs the Democratic State Committee, said Christie continues to blame "just about everyone while accepting no responsibility" for being away during the blizzard.