BRICK, N.J. In yet another community ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, Gov. Christie on Thursday held his 120th town-hall meeting since taking office a little over four years ago, for an audience of nearly 500 people gathered in the gym of an elementary school.
And the crowd was mostly friendly - composed mainly of adults over 40 and schoolchildren - who listened for more than 90 minutes to the governor discuss why he holds the forums, how much he loves New Jersey, and a story or two about his late mother.
Missing on Thursday were the hecklers the governor encountered late last month during a town-hall meeting in Mount Laurel, where six people were escorted out by state police after shouting about Sandy aid and the George Washington Bridge lane closures scandal.
Protest on Thursday was relegated to the side of a street leading to Riviera Middle School, where a few demonstrators bearing posters printed in Magic Marker complained about the governor's opposition to the legalization of medical marijuana in the state.
The only person in Brick who mentioned the lane closure investigation did so by first indicating that he supports Christie and does not believe the governor would have risked his career on the matter. Former top aides of the governor's are being investigated for blocking traffic leading to the bridge traffic in Fort Lee, in apparent retaliation against the town's Democratic mayor, who did not endorse Christie, a Republican, in his reelection bid.
"If anyone had come to me, I would have stopped it," Christie said Thursday in regard to the lane closures.
Thursday's meeting was billed as an opportunity for residents to learn about the administration's plans for getting "into the hands of New Jersey families" a second round of federal Sandy funding, expected to be released to the state next month.
But little was said about just how officials plan to administer that funding to the thousands of storm victims who may still be without the homes and businesses they lost when the storm struck Oct. 29, 2012.
Questions ran the gamut, from high tuition and student-loan interest to Girl Scout volunteers and tugboat licensing. One woman asked the governor to stop the meeting and pose for a picture with her - he did - and another hugged him and gave him a Girl Scout T-shirt to wear.
Before beginning the question-and-answer period, Christie reminded the audience of his rules of etiquette that he expected to be honored - especially if people planned to take him "out for a walk" during the proceedings.
"We're all from New Jersey," he said, "so we know what it means to 'take someone out for a walk' . . . so just remember that if you give it, then you're going to get it right back."
Christie was flanked by his "mobile cabinet" - which included Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable III, and Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin - although none of them made a statement. Representatives from various state offices, however, met constituents after the forum to discuss issues they may be having regarding recovery from Sandy.
"I came here to make them understand what I've been through . . . what we've all been through," said Scott Gusmer, 54, of Mantoloking, who said he lost his home and his importing business when Sandy ravaged his Ocean County borough, destroying and washing out to sea as many as 50 homes.
Some Mantoloking residents and outside environmental groups are against a DEP plan to build a $36 million steel seawall and dune system where the largest ocean breach occurred during Sandy, along Route 35 near the Mantoloking Bridge.
Gusmer, barely able to compose himself after the meeting as he talked about the storm devastation, had been the only speaker on Thursday to attempt to hold Christie accountable for Sandy recovery efforts. "I lost everything, my house, my business, they washed away. I'm barely hanging on," Gusmer told the governor. "I'm wearing donated clothes. I don't have shoes or a tie to come here to talk to you in. . . . But I want you to understand why this is a bad plan that the DEP commissioner has rubber-stamped."
In a matter of seconds, Christie veered from making light of the storm victim's need for a donated tie to admonishing Gusmer for saying anyone from his administration had rubber-stamped anything.
"There have been endless meetings with people in Bay Head and in Mantoloking, and there is strong resistance to building a dune system there based on private and parochial interests," Christie said. "Saying that anybody rubber-stamped anything cuts into the credibility of the people working to solve these issues, and it's offensive to the people doing this work."