Gov. Chris Christie began his keynote address at the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce's 76th annual Walk to Washington by quipping, “Here I am. Washington, D.C. My kind of town. I love this place.”
But the rest of the governor's message focused on something decidedly un-Washington-like — bipartisanship.
Post-Hurricane Sandy bipartisanship was the theme of the night, in Christie's speech and in those by members of the state's congressional delegation. Even the event itself was renamed to highlight the state's ongoing recovery.
Tom Bracken, the chamber's president and CEO, said business leaders need to work together with the public and the Legislature to help rebuild New Jersey.
"Individual success and collective failure cannot be an option," he said. "Collective success can only be our option."
Though New Jersey's political leaders have generally struck a unified tone on Sandy and the recovery from the devastating October superstorm, the same hasn't been true in Washington. A comprehensive federal aid package was delayed until this week, three months after the storm hit.
Christie said New Jersey did a good job evacuating people and helping to limit the loss of life during the storm, "yet some members of Congress — not from our state, but from others — when I was making phone calls said to me, 'Well, it just doesn't seem as bad as Katrina, governor,' And in some ways I felt we were being penalized for our competence."
Now that the money has been authorized, Christie said he plans to use some of it for grants to businesses affected by the storm. The grant money will come through the Department of Housing and Urban Development and be administered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, he said.
Those grants are aimed at Jersey Shore businesses in particular, he said.
"We need to get them back and open and working," he said. "And through our business grant program, I'm confident the EDA, along with HUD, will be able to get that done so that when the Fourth of July comes, we will see once again the beginning of the comeback of the Jersey Shore with all of us there supporting these businesses."
Returning to his theme of bipartisanship, Christie said even before Sandy, New Jersey's government had become effective thanks to cooperation between his administration and the Democratic leadership of the Legislature. He said bipartisanship doesn't mean leaders don't advocate forcefully for their principles, but simply means they also listen thoughtfully to the other side and make firm decisions.
"Business does this every day, which is why I'm making this speech to a group of business people, because you understand this," he said. "And I believe it's your obligation over the course of the next year to make that argument to the elected officials that seek your support — that you expect of them not only their principled leadership, but also leadership that gets things accomplished."