N.J. governor criticized for helicopter ride to son’s baseball game
TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey’s pugnacious, budget-cutting governor, Chris Christie, widely mentioned as a potential Republican candidate for president, is catching grief for taking a state helicopter to his son’s high school baseball game.
Critics portrayed Christie as a big hypocrite, given his tough talk about runaway spending, and Democrats called for an investigation yesterday. Republicans, meanwhile, were mute, with no one immediately coming to his defense or speaking out against him.
“Governor Christie obviously doesn’t include himself in his hollow call for shared sacrifice,’’ Democratic state Assemblyman Paul Moriarty said as he called on the governor to publicly detail his use of State Police helicopters and reimburse the taxpayers for any personal or political trips. “Governor Christie must learn that taxpayers cannot afford his helicopter joyrides.’’
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said there was nothing inappropriate or illegal about the governor’s use of the helicopter, which he said is relied on only when his schedule demands it. But Drewniak would not say precisely why Christie chose to fly or whether he plans to reimburse the state for using the aircraft for non-official purposes.
While State Police helicopters cost $2,500 an hour to operate, State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes said that giving Christie a lift did not cost taxpayers anything extra because the pilots need to put in flying time anyway to keep their skills sharp.
Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the New Jersey attorney general’s office, said that as the state’s chief executive, Christie can use the helicopter “at any time for any purpose’’ and that it is up to the governor to decide if he should reimburse the state for personal use.
Christie, his wife, Mary Pat, and an aide arrived by helicopter just before Tuesday night’s game between Delbarton High School and St. Joseph’s of Montvale began in Montvale. The couple stepped off the aircraft and into a trooper-driven car that drove them 100 yards to the bleachers, where they watched the game while flanked by state troopers. The Christies left during the fifth inning, and play was stopped briefly while the helicopter took off.
The governor’s oldest son, Andrew, attends Delbarton, a Catholic prep school, where he plays catcher — a position Christie also played in high school.
“As a father I could understand getting to your son’s game. But I don’t understand the problem with going up the Turnpike with a police escort,’’ said Rob Appello, whose backyard fence borders the football field where the helicopter landed.
According to the police, Christie has been aboard State Police helicopters 35 times since taking office a year and a half ago, including flyovers to survey flood and storm damage. State Police and the governor’s office did not say which, if any, of the trips were personal or political and whether the governor has ever reimbursed the state.
“It is important to understand that State Police helicopters fly daily homeland security missions and use flight time for training purposes, more so lately as we acclimate our pilots to the new aircraft,’’ said Fuentes, the State Police superintendent. He added that rescues or other urgent police business would have been given priority if the aircraft had been needed on the night of the ballgame.
A spokesman for the state Republican Party referred all questions to the governor’s office.
Christie, a former federal prosecutor who indicted politicians for misusing public money, has become a darling of the GOP, with party loyalists begging him to run for president.