3/9/15 Sandy Hecklers Dog Christie in Iowa Scott Gurian WNYC

3/9/15 Sandy Hecklers Dog Christie in Iowa Scott Gurian WNYC News 

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has yet to announce an official run for president, but he made another trip to Iowa on Saturday to speak alongside other prospective candidates including Scott Walker, Rick Perry and Jeb Bush.

The focus of the gathering was to promote American agriculture, but several Sandy victims from New Jersey also travelled there to call attention to what they see as problems with Christie’s handling of the recovery.

While Gov. Christie was speaking, Joe Mangino — who’s still displaced from his home in Beach Haven West — interrupted him from the crowd.

“Governor. I live in NJ also,” said Mangino, imploring Christie to “finish the job” of the Sandy recovery.

Fellow storm victim Amanda Devecka-Rinear stood next to him holding a sign that read, “Thousands of families are still homeless!”

“Come back home!” she shouted.

“I’m glad to see that New Jersey has come to Iowa,” Christie chuckled from the stage. “My people follow me everywhere. It’s fabulous! I’m magnetic,” he joked to the event’s moderator. “They can’t stay away from me!”

Earlier this year, after the governor failed to mention the widespread frustrations with New Jersey’s ongoing Sandy recovery in his State of the State address, the Star-Ledger editorial board suggested that Sandy victims should send a delegation to Iowa and New Hampshire to spread the word.

Joe Mangino says he’s not a political person, so he never thought he’d end up chasing the governor halfway across the country.

“I don’t want to be the guy that is always talking about Sandy. I want it to go away!” he said in an interview last week. “We talk to friends, and sometimes I realize I’m saying that, and I’m like, ‘Oh, just shut up already with the Sandy stuff!’ You know? I just want to sit on my couch on a Friday night and do nothing and fall asleep at eight o’clock. I just want to get back to normal life.”

That dream remains a distant reality, though. He’s completed repairs on his home, but he can’t move back in because he’s still waiting on contractors to come elevate it. In the meantime, it sits dark and vacant. The utilities have been disconnected, and a thermostat on the wall reads 40 degrees. I don’t see an end in sight,” he said.

Mangino gave high marks to Christie in the immediate aftermath of the storm. But like many Sandy victims still out of their homes, he grew increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of progress, so a few months ago, he got together with a few others and formed a group called the New Jersey Organizing Project.

They held meetings to answer questions from other storm victims about the recovery process. They discussed their concerns with various lawmakers including Senator Menendez’s office. They also tried to arrange a meeting with the governor, but were told he was too busy, so last month, Mangino turned to a crowd-funding site on the internet to raise $300 to cover his airfare to Iowa. In less than two weeks, more than $1,300 came pouring in, some of it in the form of $50 donations from fellow Sandy victims. It was a sign, he said, that people were rooting for him.

“I just want to be able to say, ‘Here’s what’s wrong with the programs: We need leadership, we need transparency, we need to streamline a few different things. We need to get these people home so we can move on,’ he said, adding that Christie had broken a promise he made in his 2014 State of the State address.

“He wasn’t going to rest until everybody was back home, and he sort of bailed on us,” Mangino said. “I don’t want to stop him from whatever his aspirations or goals are, but really that’s not my concern. My concern is me and my family.”

While most Sandy victims tell pollsters they feel Christie has turned his back on them, views of the recovery are more favorable among the general population, said Patrick Murray with the Monmouth University Polling Institute. His latest survey found more than half of respondents are satisfied with the progress so far.

“For most of the people of New Jersey, the Sandy recovery is the beaches and boardwalks, because that’s what they go to visit over the summer,” Murray said. “They’re seeing the vast majority of those back up and running. And they’re really not sure about what’s happening with the people whose houses were demolished, and are out of their homes.”

Considering how much damage Sandy caused to New Jersey, Murray thinks it’s surprising that the speed bumps the recovery has encountered — including delays in aid, lost applicant paperwork and problems with government contractors — haven’t been more of an issue.

“The fact that the stories have been able to be swept under the carpet for the most part, and most of New Jersey isn’t aware of this or doesn’t want to be aware of this is actually giving the governor a bit of a pass on needing to deal with this situation,” he said.

Storm survivors and critics have confronted Christie before about the problems with the recovery. Administration officials have responded that they’ve made a number of improvements, including new procedures to get aid money out the door faster.

For his part, Christie has vigorously defended his record, like when protester Jim Keady confronted him last October in Belmar and Christie yelled at him to sit down and shut up.

“Somebody like you doesn’t know a damn thing about what you’re talking about, except to stand up and show off when the cameras are here,” Christie said. “I’ve been here when the cameras weren’t here and did the work!”

Christie’s approval ratings were in the 70-percentile range immediately after the storm. But while his overall popularity has dropped, both locally and nationally, polls find it’s due more to the Bridgegate scandal and New Jersey’s economy.

At this point, Sandy isn’t causing outrage in New Jersey, pollster Patrick Murrary said, so he’s skeptical the complaints will gain much traction in New Hampshire or Iowa, either.