DES MOINES, IOWA — More than two years after Hurricane Sandy devastated the New Jersey coast, Joe Mangino and his family are living in temporary housing as their home sits gutted and inhabitable. But when he and many of the other 15,000 families still displaced from the storm have requested meetings with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) to discuss his failed recovery efforts, the likely presidential candidate has said he is too busy.
So when Mangino, an activist with the New Jersey Organizing Project, heard that Christie would be speaking at the Iowa Agriculture Summit in Des Moines on Saturday, Mangino told ThinkProgress he decided to accommodate the governor’s busy schedule and booked his plane ticket to Iowa.
Halfway through Christie’s question and answer session with agribusiness entrepreneur and Republican donor Bruce Rastetter at the summit, Mangino stood up holding a sign, requesting that Christie “finish the job” and get his family home. The governor did not ignore the interruption.
“I’ll deal with you here the same way as I deal with you in New Jersey,” he said, eliciting laughter from the audience.
“My people follow me everywhere, Bruce,” he added shortly after. “It’s fabulous. I’m magnetic. They can’t stay away from me.”
Security officers quickly escorted Mangino out of the building as Rastetter dismissed the protest, telling Christie they were there to discuss “serious issues.”
“My family being homeless and 15,000 other families — that’s not serious?” Mangino said. “I knew we weren’t going to get a dialogue. This was a last resort. We’re stuck in a failing program and people are losing everything … It’s a desperate time.”
Mangino said that as he was making his remarks, a man near him in the audience told him to shut up and go home. “That’s the whole reason I’m here,” Mangino told ThinkProgress. “I don’t have a home to go to.”
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New Jersey launched the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program which set aside $1.1 billion of federal funds to help state residents rebuild their homes, allotting grants of up to $150,000 to homeowners. But the roll out of the program was plagued with problems and homeowners like Mangino have said they are stuck paying both their mortgages and rental fees as they wait for funding to come through.
While a recent report from the Fair Share Housing Center found that Sandy recovery efforts are “far from complete” and 15,000 families in New Jersey are still waiting for aid from the state to rebuild their homes, the governor has focused his efforts on restoring tourism to the state and touring the country in preparation for a 2016 presidential campaign.
Early last year, federal officials said they were investigating Christie’s use of millions of dollars in Sandy relief funds for ads to promote tourism that also prominently featured the governor. And the state is currently disputing the FSHC’s claim that 15,000 families are still waiting to rebuild, saying it’s “a gross and irresponsible distortion of the facts.”